ZJA Sport & Leisure

The desire for the spatial body

In sport the moving, expressive human body is central – as an individual and as a team – and far more is at stake than winning or losing. The collective pleasure in the physical and mental skills and accomplishments of sportspeople nourishes a form of solidarity that connects individuals of the most diverse social origins. In the small arena provided by sport, the same things are at play as preoccupy people in real life: success and failure, good luck and bad luck, mistakes and strokes of brilliance, discipline and self-fulfilment, egotism and collaboration. This also applies to events with popular entertainment, such as trade fairs for science fiction fans, musicals, or the Eurovision Song Festival. Their programmes are shaped by similar considerations.

In the middle of the city

Cities are more sought after than ever, and both the density of the buildings and the intensity of the use of urban space continue to increase. But because of individualization and technological developments, people have become better and better at living together without any real contact. Experiencing something along with many others, being part of a larger whole than one’s own group, hardly ever happens any longer except in environments where everything revolves around sport and entertainment.

For cities and their residents, the development of such environments has a potential for added value that surpasses the practical function of the building. Instead of placing them out on the edge, as has been the tradition, there is a desire to integrate venues intended for sports and other events into the city, in such a way that the surroundings are qualitatively improved for the people who live there.

Take the combination of recreational and top-level sport. It can be brought about functionally, but it can also be designed such that the interaction between top athletes, children and amateur sportspeople has an inspiring impact. Sports venues are meeting places in several respects, and this attribute can be stimulated by flexible design, whether changes of function are temporary or permanent. Both economic and social opportunities result. Venues for sports and events can also upgrade the surroundings by prompting the laying of access roads and ensuring the provision of public transport, by generating energy through solar panels and storing it in batteries, and by reducing pressure on the sewers by introducing water-storage systems. Flexible design embraces changes of scale, temporary and permanent changes of function, and adaptation to future use.

In ZJA’s way of thinking, the architect is not only a unifying factor but the person who will continue to ask questions about new techniques and methods, new materials, and connections between diverse social worlds.

The future

Although the majority of commissions are dominated by mainstream sports, education and recreational sport, and the big professional sports, the relationship between the urban environment and the design of sporting environments is undergoing a sea change. There is now more demand for complexes where sports facilities are integrated into buildings where other events take place as well, where people can shop and work, and culture and entertainment can be accommodated.

Truly urban sports such as basketball, BMX, skateboarding, parkour and padel present new technical and spatial demands. With the recognition of breakdance as an Olympic sport and the rise of esports, including as spectator sports, new types of buildings need to be developed, in which media, entertainment and sport become intensively interwoven.

Alongside urban development and sustainability, the theme of health and the consciousness-raising that goes with it are an increasingly important element of the design of venues for sports and other events. The creation of parks and sports facilities in public space are related themes nowadays, for instance. Here too, curiosity, research, inventiveness and visionary commissioning will make the difference.

For ZJA the exploration of such new phenomena begins at pedestrian level, by going to look, hanging around and talking to sportspeople, trainers, the general public and organizers to gain an insight into what is needed and what might be possible. How do these new phenomena best fit into the urban space? The design begins with that question and, as part of it, with consulting residents, partners, clients and technicians.