Introduction: ARENA | PLAY

Arena | Play brings the ping pong table out from your aunt and uncle’s basement, neighbor’s garage, and nearly every tech startup’s conference room, and into San Francisco’s most public streetscape. The prototype arrives on Market with a twist: its hexagonal shape creates the opportunity for up to six people to compete at a time. The game experience is enhanced for players and onlookers alike by integrated LED lighting responsive to the ball. Seat groupings define Arena | Play’s edges, allowing pedestrians to enjoy the spectacle and await their own turn at the table.

The project was design-build project led by Gensler San Francisco in conjunction with Build Group Inc.

Step 1: Materials

Ping Pong Table:

  • (4) 4' X 4' acrylic panels
  • (2) 4' X 10' X 3/4" maple plywood boards for electronics mounting
  • (2) 4' X 8' X 3/4" maple plywood boards for frame
  • 20+ 2 X 4 studs for framing and structure
  • Paint
  • U hook hardware for paddle holders


  • (2) Arduino Uno
  • (1) Arduino Mega
  • (36) Piezo sensors
  • (10) 5050 LED Strips
  • (4) Molex 20 pin connector
  • (1) GSM Shield + T-Mobile SIM card for text messaging data to server
  • Amazon EC2 server
  • (6) LM358 Op amps
  • Red, Blue and Green giant buttons
  • Hookup wire
  • (6) blank copper circuit boards
  • Screw terminals
  • (96) N-Channel MOSFETs to drive LEDs


  • Concrete Mix
  • Plywood with sonotube formwork
  • 2' X 2' X 1/4" recycled cork tiles adhered to plywood subtop

Step 2: Design

Concept design for the project was first kicked off at our firms monthly gLab - an after-hours gathering of Gensler SF staff for a design charette. In that process, we analyzed the various existing conditions perceived or known throughout all of Market Street, as well as the various personalities of the districts listed as part of the festival. We provided precedent imagery on a variety of design elements (furniture, architecture, art etc.) to serve as a visual aid to spark ideas and then people were encouraged to list ideas or sketches (via post-it notes) of elements they felt could be an engaging pedestrian feature.

The core team eventually filtered through these sketches and settled on (2) primary concepts of passive (ARENA) and active (PLAY) engagement. Given the limitation of space set by the festival and the idea that the installation be identifiable/approachable, we focused on ping-pong as the activity. As the team began formalizing the form of the proposed "arena" seating element, we began looking at shapes that could be an easily repeated module. After settling on the hexagon module, we realized there was opportunity to modify the ping-pong "play" concept and create a new type of gaming element. By changing the form of the table, we identified the possibility that the table itself could create the random engagement in a public space - forcing more than 2 people to interact and also forcing the players to create their own rules.

Design was further developed using design software like Sketch-up, Revit and Photoshop, as well basic mock-ups using blue tape, to size elements appropriately. As we moved into construction, other design elements were finessed and/or added onto based on the capabilities of the team.

Step 3: Fabrication

Ping Pong Table:

  • Fabrication lasted 4 months beginning with the construction of the LED panels. Strips of LED lights were glued down to a plywood base, with wiring being routed underneath. We split the panels into halves of the table.
  • We next created the frame for the LED light panels to be housed in with dimensional lumber. It was made to be sturdy enough to hold a lot of weight.
  • Once the frame was completed we anchored the LED panel to the frame so we could have easier access to the bottom and prop up the panels. We then connected each strip of LEDs to a power source and to the Arduino modules.
  • A score system was also created with LED strip lights and pushed into transparent vinyl tubes. These were also hooked up to power and the Arduino's.
  • We set up a grid of pressure sensitive sensors on spacers that would detect any bounces from the ping pong balls.
  • After trouble shooting and testing, the lights worked. Next we placed acrylic tops that simply rested on the top of the LED panels, using its own weight to secure itself.
  • A net was CNC routed out of plywood and secured to the table.
  • Finally a base was created that raised the table to official regulation height. It also housed an amplifier for music and sound effects.


  • Pedestals forms were fabricated based on a simple triangular module set at three different heights. Molds were made from 2x4 lumber and particle board. We kept the core hollow by placing a sono tube in the center. Total cure time was approximately 1 week.
  • After curing we cnc routed seat tops out of plywood and adhered it to the concrete with construction adhesive. We cut additional top material out of cork and recycled rubber to provide a variety of textures and colors, and attached those to the seat tops with adhesive as well.

Step 4: Installation

Since the majority of the elements were fabricated into separate parts, installation was fairly easy on the day of the festival. The table, composed of (2) table top halves and then an isolated base, were transported to the site via a rental truck and was assembled fairly quickly once unloaded. Our partner GC took care of the delivery of the concrete pedestals. To aid in installation, we created a key plan of the site with the table and all the pedestal modules identified and then taped up the site with these locations prior to delivery. With the help of 15 volunteers and the promise of free pizza, everything quickly went into position without much hassle.

Step 5: Interaction

Once the installation was in place, it immediately peaked the interests of people passing by. It's rare that the anthem of Space Jam doesn't insight some sort of reaction. As soon as folks could identify the ping pong paddles, it wasn't very long before gamers began playing. At first, it would be 2-players at a time but after awhile, other players would jump in to play. Because there was no defined set of rules, sometimes the game would be played using a 3 vs 3 team structure while on other occasions, there would be 3 separate games going on where players opposite each other would have their own ball. Berlin-style ping pong - where players rotate around the table and have to have a single hit - was also very popular game technique.

While the table was the focus of the installation, it's important to note that the seating elements were heavily used during the festival. With limited public seating in the area, as well as an opportunity to observer Market Street from varying levels, the pedestals offered a great way to relax and enjoy people watching.

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    7 Discussions


    5 years ago

    Perfect idea, perfect project, perfect instructable!


    5 years ago

    very nice project! on of my favorites.
    but I have 1 question though : what kind of pressure sensors did you use for this application? thx!


    Reply 5 years ago

    The piezo's register the bouncing ball.


    5 years ago

    I'm seeing more and more of these "pedestrian interactive" projects and I think they are just awesome! It's like making a cool thing and then just throwing it into a group of people and they all become your little lab rats, with different ideas and actions.