Jul 26, 2013
THEME: Wellness

The Next Olympic Sport? The Growth of Squash and New Opportunities for Design

Later this year, the International Olympic Committee will decide whether to include Squash in the 2020 Olympics – a decision marking a potentially momentous turning point in the history of the sport. As an avid squash player, I’m very excited about the potential for the game to join the Olympics. As an architect, I see the tremendous growth of squash as an opportunity for a transformation of the way the game is enjoyed at every level – from the increasingly popular college and high school leagues, to new Urban Squash youth programs taking root in cities across the country, to the growing pro circuit in this country and around the world. The game of squash is poised to make a big leap, and the designs of new facilities will have to respond accordingly.

The fact that squash finds itself in this position is because it is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, with over 25 million players in 185 countries around the globe. Especially remarkable is the sport’s increasing popularity in the United States, where squash is growing faster than anywhere else, especially at the junior level. Recent data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association indicates an incredible 82% growth rate between 2007 and 2011. This significant growth presents an opportunity to design new squash facilities that have the potential to become dynamic community centers in the 21st century.

Since the U.S. adopted the International squash standards in the 1990s, the stock of outdated American Hardball singles courts is slowly being replaced, first at the private club level and now increasingly at public universities and athletic facilities. In 1999, when I first arrived in Charlottesville, VA as a freshman at the University of Virginia, there were only two regulation courts in the entire area, and none on campus. While at the UVA, I started the Club Squash team and by 2003, my senior year, we were the first UVA squash team to ever go to the National Championships. That year there were only 35 teams competing at Nationals – this past year the College Squash Association included over 75 teams! Charlottesville now boasts about 30 courts in the area, including a brand new 11-court facility completed by UVA this spring. Today, most colleges and universities are including squash courts in their new rec centers or building dedicated squash facilities. From our research into squash trends on college campuses, we see larger facilities being built in future years as new programs become more established and look to expand.  

One of the most significant changes in the sport over the last few years has been the proliferation of the Urban Squash movement. Today, many major US cities are home to Urban Squash Enrichment programs that provide after school tutoring and mentoring to children in under-served communities. These programs use squash as the vehicle to teach health, character, and hard work. Here in Boston, I am involved with SquashBusters, the first program of its kind which operates out of its own facility on the Northeastern campus. In just the past year, SquashBusters has opened a new outpost in Lawrence, MA. In other cities like Philadelphia and New York, these types of programs have built their own dedicated facilities that include classrooms, conference rooms, and other support spaces. As other programs grow, more facilities like this will be built.

Not only is squash growing at a remarkable rate, but it is becoming more visible to the public at large. Moveable all-glass exhibition courts can be erected temporarily to stage tournaments anywhere. Thousands of people pass by the Tournament of Champions held each year in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. Tournaments have also been held at Chicago’s Millennium Park, on the harbor in Hong Kong, and at the Pyramids in Giza. Streaming High Definition broadcasts of professional tournaments around the globe make viewing the highest level of competition available to all.

Squash is gaining visibility, literally, as seen here with a glass court allowing spectators to watch from more sides, here played in Chicago’s Millenium Park.


Squash in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, right in the center of the Midtown Manhattan

Be it near an academic quad or right in the grid of Manhattan, these new facilities must meet the current standards of the sport, for both those playing it and those watching. New facilities must respond to the various use requirements of squash, be it team practice and training, recreational play, or tournaments. In order to do so, designs must focus on the spaces outside the courts, not just the courts themselves. New facilities must provide a variety of viewing options and support spaces. Our design for The Squash Center, a proposed 17-court facility in New York City that would be the largest in the country, includes social spaces with adjacency to the courts to encourage the “community” aspect of the sport.

In this scheme for the Squash Center, the courtyard becomes a vital place for the squash ‘community.’ Image (c) Perkins+Will


In this alternate scheme for the Squash Center, circulation paths can double as places to socialize and spectate matches in progress, creating localized neighborhoods. Image (c) Perkins+Will

Within our Sports + Recreation practice, we see the sport of squash as a great opportunity for innovative design to complement a healthier and more enjoyable lifestyle. As squash quickly becomes even more inclusive and accessible, there is great potential to create vibrant community resources centered on wellness and fitness. Whether in recreational centers, on college campuses, or for youth organizations, these facilities have the opportunity to become integral to the everyday life of the communities they serve.

  1. Aubrey Waddy
    5:30 pm on July 27, 2013 | Reply

    What a centre that would be, 17 courts! It’s great to see how squash is on the up in the USA. And at last squash is starting to appear in fiction, see the brilliant multi-author serials on Ted Gross’s Daily Squash Report web site, “The Club from Hell” and “Breaking Glass”, see http://www.dailysquashreport.com, and my thriller “Sex and Drugs and Squash’n’Roll” which includes the important US character, Julio “Razza” Mattaz, a genius of a player central to the plot. The Tournament of Champions is such an iconic event that I used this setting for the climax of the story.

    • Tyler Hinckley Tyler Hinckley
      10:10 am on July 29, 2013 | Reply

      Yes, squash is certainly on the rise in the US! Sports often provide a great vehicle for storytelling, and the TOC is certainly quite a stage.

  2. Laurent Cossa
    4:27 pm on July 29, 2013 | Reply

    A truly remarkable club design! As part of PSA’s SquashTV team, may I suggest that the main ‘show’ court is a darker white ball court. It grates with me to see so many black ball glass courts as, in this age of internet streaming, they render the game almost impossible to follow on TV! What a waste! Always worth building the possibility of a small tournament with sufficient back wall, side wall seating and provision for TV streaming. Wouldn’t hurt to make the ambient light around that court darker too. Let’s hope we get the result we need in September!

    • Aubrey Waddy
      4:18 am on July 30, 2013 | Reply

      Hey Laurent, you make the BIGGEST point there is for squash. If we can get more people, especially non squash players, watching, we can get more interest and more advertising, a virtuous circle that could lead to a VIRTUOUS EXPLOSION for the sport!

      And this is where squash has to take a risk. We are all accustomed to watching the game from behind the back wall. We’ve grown up looking down from the trad squash gallery. We squash players can read the game from there. We KNOW how hard those players are working.

      But dedicated squash players are not the people we need to enthuse. We enthuse already! The ones we need to capture are the folks on the couch, flicking through the channels on a wet Saturday afternoon, accidentally dropping in to Ramy Ashour against Gregory Gaultier, Nicol David against Nour el Sherbini. If we capture these general sports fans, we attract the big money sponsors. And squash will be IN!

      But what is it these sports fans see if they happen on televised squash? They see some admittedly not unattractive Aussie and Egyptian, American and English BUTTS! They don’t understand why those guys and gals are sweating so much. Sure they can see some fast action from time to time over there at the front of the court, but again, it’s backs and butts, too far away to appreciate the effort.

      In seeking to promote squash, we should pay attention to our own publicity. Take a look at ANY photo of a Mo el Shorbagy or a Dipika Pallikal. Are we looking at the backs of these athletes’ heads? Are we looking at them lunging AWAY from us? No way! The drama of squash is seen nowadays in the wonderful photographs of the stretches and dives and grimaces TAKEN THROUGH THE FRONT WALL.

      It’s a no brainer. The front wall photos are the ones we use, for obvious reasons. It plainly begs the question: why don’t we TELEVISE from the front, using the other angles, behind, down the backhand wall, even overhead, for support and colour? I’ve watched some great games through the front wall at the ToC. It takes a moment to adjust, but then it’s so darned vivid.

      The detail has to be worked out, camera height and distance and so forth. You’ve hinted in your comment at some of the changes to make it possible. The imperative is to televise squash at its most dramatic, where you can see the strain on the players’ faces, you can appreciate the astonishing scrambling and you can admire the prodigious physicality. Television is the key to the sport’s development, and we’ll never succeed if we concentrate on the backs of the heads of our stars. It doesn’t make sense.

      I challenge the WSA and PSA to show some imagination. Maybe the US Pro Squash Series can give a lead. Let’s show the FACE of squash to the world!

      • Laurent Cossa
        4:50 am on July 30, 2013 | Reply

        Hi Aubrey,
        I understand your point and it’s not the first time it’s been said. Watching live through the front wall suits some people but not others. From a TV point of view, I recently watched an old promo from 1989/90 showing the virtues of filming from the front. The 1989 Kl World Open (I think it was) was filmed almost entirely from front wall angles – and it sucks which is why this method was swiftly abandoned! It’s difficult to get a good overall view of the court without killing various aspects of depth and height of the shots. The semi-opaque nature of the wall gives a ‘dirty’ image, and would have to be clear of any logos. The eye really sees better than the camera and therefore what pleases the eye cannot always be achieved on TV.
        Also as has been my experience, as I used to do it a lot, cutting between back wall views and the front wall during a rally make it harder to follow the ball, a key issue with those unfamiliar with the game. Instead we try to show replays when possible from the front wall to show reaching, effort etc
        Worth noting that in tennis, for example, they have so many cameras but play is always from the one high view (and you see one of their butts!) as this offers a good overview, with replays fleshing out details.
        However, my main point on this blog is to do with investment in the infrastructure of the sport. If money is to be spent on an all-glass court or a court that will likely be used for championship meetings of any level – it MUST cater for the possibility of video coverage and only white balls on a dark court work reliably on video. Black ball glass courts are a waste of money and lack the ability to promote the sport in the best way possible. This is why the top level of the game uses them and the newest generation courts, from ASB for example, are a darker blue than ever.

        • Aubrey Waddy
          5:20 am on July 30, 2013 | Reply

          Your main point is well taken, Laurent, and I hope well heard in the right circles. Without the best facilities the sport can’t be promoted properly. As for TV angles, NOTHING was much good in 1989/90! Televising has moved on a lot from then. Maybe as you suggest the answer lies in intelligent use of replays, although the ‘continuous play’ required by the rules makes this difficult.

    • Tyler Hinckley Tyler Hinckley
      7:28 am on July 30, 2013 | Reply

      Your point about dark glass courts is a good one. Our design for The Squash Center could certainly include that kind of court construction. We expect the facility to be a destination for tournaments from the junior level all the way to the top pros. Not only is the white ball on the dark glass court an excellent viewing experience (in person and on TV), but the four wall glass court provides potential for the spaces outside the court to relate to the action in dynamic ways.

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