Above the Clouds: Rooftop Courts in Hong Kong
A case study in how innovative design can connect generations, empower communities and help make sport more inclusive.
"Proof of Concept" is a series showcasing renegade innovations in sport, wellness and ability.
Melody Siu faced a minor conundrum at school: She loved science as much as she loved art. Ultimately, she chose both. "It's only natural, when you imagine a future [combining] these two disciplines, that it's something like architecture", she says about her eventual career path.
Today, as a senior architectural designer at One Bite Design Studio in Hong Kong, Melody combines art and science on a daily basis. Any variety of public-space projects might come across her desk on a given day—from serene tea shops, to bustling hotel lobbies, to rooftop basketball courts atop the region's many public housing estates.
Each assignment comes with its own unique set of considerations, so the first time Melody and the team took on a basketball court redesign, they had to learn by doing. With four such projects now complete, they've identified some functional rules of thumb. Think of these as a sport-court designer's playbook:
- Design for durability. When it comes to public spaces, aesthetic doesn't mean much without longevity. "You have to pick the right base colour for the court, so it doesn't get scratched or marked easily", Melody says.
- Use limited space efficiently. Basketball is so popular in Hong Kong that players often have to wait up to an hour to get into a pickup game. The more courts that can be designed to fit into the footprint of a playground, the more people can play.
- Partner with communities. To get the most out of them, sport courts have to be designed to proper specifications. Because Melody and the team weren't basketball experts going into these projects, they sought out collaborators who were.
- Work with what you have. Revamping an existing structure is a whole different challenge than starting from scratch. Creative problem-solving and embracing constraints become the name of the game.
Watch the video above to learn how designers, athletes and basketball lovers are working together to revitalise public courts all over Hong Kong. Below, check out a recap of their recent projects—which also happen to be great spots to shoot hoops.
Kai Yip Court—The Power of Collaboration
On or off the court, teams win. This first renovation project brought Melody and her One Bite crew together with fellow designers at SLAB, a community for basketball lovers in Hong Kong. Together, they efficiently divided and conquered responsibilities: SLAB set the tone visually with graphics and colours inspired by the city skyline at night and handled design duties for the main court. Meanwhile, One Bite carried over those visual cues to an outdoor play area, as well as project-managing practical repairs to elements like an overhead covering that allows athletes to keep playing through the region's rainy season. The result is a functional work of art that's more than the sum of its parts.
Tsing Yi Court—Local Pride
"[Courts] are usually red and green in Hong Kong, very typical and monotonous", Melody says of the standard-issue paint jobs used for the vast majority of public play areas. That's what makes the technicolour redux at Tsing Yi all the more striking. Even though this was a relatively straightforward, aesthetic-only upgrade, it still aims to make a big impact through its hyperlocal design language: The shapes echo Tsing Yi island's topography and the palette is inspired by a famed local fish. "I hope that residents will feel a sense of identity, ownership and even pride", says Melody, reflecting on how the design is visible from apartment windows all around the area.
Siu Hei Court—Making Connections
When the One Bite team first surveyed this space, they found the split-level facility not only run-down, but also disconnected, with barriers separating the upper and lower courts. The first order of business was a functional transformation, opening things up with a bleacher-like seating area that allows users to circulate freely. From there, they focused on making the space multi-use—and multi-generational. As the court sits above public housing with a diverse range of age groups and interests, the design team made maximum use of the space by including a path for walking, tyres to climb on, basketball courts and even a "free play" grid engineered to encourage creative movement for kids. To ensure the court markings were spot-on and ready for regulation play, Melody and the team consulted with a local league, the Hong Kong Playground Association, for on-the-ground input.
Ming Tak Court—Growing the Girls' Game
Snagging time on Hong Kong's busy basketball courts is tough for anyone—especially non-male players, who aren't always welcomed or taken seriously. Working with community partners, the One Bite team set out to establish an inclusive space for athletes of any gender to hoop and feel at home. "The theme is girls' priority", Melody says of the creative strategy her team applied to Ming Tak. "We hope to create a safe space for athletes, especially girls, to enjoy sports without worries". Those values are reflected in the redesign, including a colour gradient that represents a non-binary spectrum of gender identities, and a bold 'W' graphic centre-stage on one of the two courts, declaring that women have first dibs here.
Ready to play? At the time of writing, public courts have been intermittently closed due to the pandemic—but here's a bird's-eye view of where these four courts sit in Hong Kong, so you can seek them out once it's safe to do so!
Update! Nike has recently partnered with local organisations to refurbish another community court in Hong Kong—which looks like a blast to play at and happens to be made from 20,000 pairs of used sneakers via the Nike Grind recycling programme. Learn more about the Shek Lei Grind Court on Nike News.
Film: Azsa West
Words: Brinkley Fox
Photography: Victor Cheng