Entrepreneur

We Didn’t Think That Malaysia's Ugly Sports Courts Mattered—Until This Interview

Author’s Blurb: I used to train in tennis when I was younger. Back then, the only courts I saw were basic and uniform in design. They were spaces that went unnoticed, appreciated only when they were in use. But here’s one woman who’s trying to change the way we see these courts.

A Sabahan girl born and raised, Melissa Lo told Vulcan Post that sport has always played a large role in her life.

As a young girl she was trained in squash, and today as an adult she indulges in her passion for badminton. Professionally, she has an architectural background.

Combining these two aspects of her life have brought her to where she is today—as the sole founder of One Space Wonder (OSW), established in 2019.

OSW introduces fresh and colourful designs for existing sports courts and spaces, where the focus is usually on functionality instead of aesthetics.

Back when Melissa was working at DP Architects, she was involved with the construction of a sports facility for an international school.

This experience had her thinking that if these sports facilities and spaces could be made more colourful, people would start noticing them.

“I was proven right when the Pigalle court, located in Paris, was making its rounds on social media and design websites,” said Melissa.

“I knew instantly, I needed to get something like that done in Malaysia.”

A Space For All

Now, you might think, what exactly is the value of an art court (the term used to describe OSW’s courts)? I brought these doubts to Melissa.

“With a pretty court, it brings people to it,” she said, “It sounds like a really idealistic pitch, but it has been proven in the art courts that OSW has completed.”

OSW’s two courts under the Sayangi Rumahku initiative (with one more to be completed in March) which are jointly supported by Edge Property, Paramount Property, and Nippon Paint, have had a significant impact on children living in People’s Housing Project (PPR) homes.

Image Credit: One Space Wonder

“Even if it isn’t a full court fit for a gruelling game of soccer, these kids would come down and invite their friends from other PPRs for a game or two,” Melissa shared.

“You’ll see the other kids who don’t play coming down to just hang around the area. The court is not just functional, but also a uniting factor that brings people together, regardless of race,” she continued.

Knowing Her Game

But the functionality of these courts still remains a concern to many.

After one of Melissa’s friends uploaded a picture of her recent project onto Reddit, users wondered if the patterns would affect gameplay.

In response, Melissa explained that she designs the flooring to ensure that the patterns are not visually distracting, and that she also takes into consideration how the sport of a certain court is played.

“For example, in social basketball, the eyes are usually focused on the hoop and the surroundings, not so much on the lines, unless you’re attempting a three-point throw,” she said, “Hence, even if the patterns were drawn near the centre circle instead, would that really matter?”

A crisp design for a basketball court / Image Credit: One Space Wonder

However, Melissa does make a distinction between her art courts and courts built for competition purposes.

Where art courts are created solely to entice people into keeping fit and to stay away from social ills on the streets, each sports governing body still has its own regulations for its sports facilities.

“For those on a competitive level, I would suggest to go for facilities that are really built for competition. They will be better for training and preparation instead,” Melissa advised.

Built On The Appreciation Of Art

Melissa runs OSW as a one-woman company, but works in teams for different projects.

Image Credit: One Space Wonder

The scope of work that she offers includes consultancy services, the sourcing of materials, establishing construction details and timelines, the design and execution of artwork, site supervision, logistics arrangement, and more.

The pricing of a court as well as the number of part-timers needed to design one court is dependent on the scope of work needed, and the number of days needed for a project depends on the weather.

She admitted that the space that OSW occupies is very niche, but that the demand is enough to keep the business afloat for now.

“Given that I am intending to expand the business to design more than art courts, I do find the need to plan the recruitment of designers for OSW,” she said.

Melissa next to a mural by OSW / Image Credit: One Space Wonder

“But that cannot happen if I don’t get clients who are willing to try new ideas.”

In fact, Melissa struggled to find her first client until she met YB Phoong Jin Zhe, Sabah’s Youth and Sports Minister.

Thankfully, he’s supportive of the art community and within two short meetings, they managed to proceed with creating Sabah’s first art court.

Keeping It Moving

Today, Melissa faces a different struggle: other designers who heavily reference her own designs.

“It’s a double edged sword, because I really want art courts to be a norm, and for them to ‘reference heavily’ is a flattery, but on the flipside, they could have informed me,” she lamented.

But she tries not to dwell on it. “My passion drives me to up the game, and hopefully people will see that and support me for my passion and originality.”

For the future that she’s planned for OSW, she envisions designing parks, playscapes for spaces, and playful interactive sculptures not only within Malaysia, but hopefully beyond it as well.

Image Credit: One Space Wonder

“It’s a high target, but it’s achievable. I’m not aiming for OSW to be a large firm or star design firm of that sort, but I will push for OSW to be a multi-disciplinary studio that incorporates fun and play in every design that’s churned out of it,” Melissa humbly concluded.

Bottom Line: Though it’s been a hot minute since I’ve played tennis, I believe that playing on one of OSW’s art courts would make the game a refreshing experience. Rather than staring at dull, cracked concrete, I can already see myself getting a boost of energy from just being on an art court. Now I really want to take up tennis again.

  • You can read more about other Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: One Space Wonder

 

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