Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

bbc_euro2008.jpg

Another tournament, another ridiculous table. A bunch of clapped out old pros sitting around in studios attempting to drum up interest in a tournament that England couldn’t qualify for …

The BBCs Euro 2008 studio is a glass box overlooking the rooftops of Vienna – You can see the construction process on this Flickr feed. Its panoramic backdrop is high culture penthouse: night sky and fragments of the Opera House. At the 5pm kick off, it looks like it might be the corner of a Viennese advertising agency. By the end of the 7.45 games, it’s transformed through lighting into the VIP area of a euro-trash party-boat. Both the most natural habitats of modern day footballers.

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But it’s the table that’s of primary interest. It displays the unusual usual tropes of that tiny genre of design: football tournament desk design.

Strange shape? Check, it has a geometry derived from a fight between an oval and a triangle.

Odd material? Yep: shiny and glowing, and very fragile.

Over Engineered? Certainly – it looks like it’s packed full of fluorescent tubes – and what are all those shelves for? Perhaps they refect the emptiness of England’s trophy cabinet? It’s all ribs and plates that look so fussy that they’d collapse if sprayed it with Mr Sheen.

Obviously useless? Of course! Its outer rim isn’t large enough to hold the scribbled A4 pads full of punditry.

Other Qualities? What it really reminds me of is a large scale model for a bad bit of modern architecture. It looks like it should contain luxury penthouses, a gym and some hard to let commercial space on the ground floor.

ITV – as usual – suggest they are broadcasting from an underground bunker festooned with garish graphics on pop-up exhibition stand equipment. It’s a special kind of claustrophobia – combining the horror of being trapped underground with the horror of Steve Ryder, with the prospect of having to decide which part of Andy Townsend you would eat first.

Other sports broadcasters have different ideas. Sky Sports News suggests that it is broadcast live from an orbiting sports-oriented space station. It’s a reflection of the channels omnipresent immediacy – sucking live video feeds from any training ground bust up or wild transfer rumour 24/7, 365 detailing the non-stop, over-hyped minutae of sports events.

Equally, the desks of other TV shows are just as odd: panel shows, game shows, news programmes all centre on interesting artefacts which, though they look like furniture, actually are scenery: what you might call desks with no back.

There is perhaps one real-world equivalent. Back in the 1990s, before Britain ‘got’ architecture and design, I used to joke that the only chance a young UK architecture office had to express themselves was through designing reception desks for media companies. In each reception desk was wrapped up a whole approach to architecture – rendered in MDF and paint. Ever more ridiculous of course, ever more pretentious, and ever more frustrating. And there must have been hundreds. The taxonomy of Londons reception desks (1994-2001) would make a great show (or at least a vaguely interesting show).

Somewhere in the dialogue between the weak and flimsy armature and weightier pretensions we see a certain kind of design futility – we can glimpse the gap between a designers intention and desire on one hand and the hollow and unresponsive nature of material objects on the other.

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