Slams

All play is good and fun.

The table tennis slam—and its return—is one of the most ballet-like moves in the game. Draw crowds, oohs and aahs. A player falls back to return a withering series of slams.

When no one expects it, the superior player can slam back, from thirty feet.

You have to see it to believe it.

Personality of the net

Our Prism net is tongue-in-cheek.

Speaking totally in theory, if your ultra-slam were to be a wee bit low and hit into the net, the Prism rings with a soft gong sound. It sounds like a 1970s videogame blooper tone. The shot loops back to you in a gentle arc. If your slam were particularly vicious, the arc is higher, and takes longer to sail back to you. Unfortunately this means all the people watching your ordinarily great shots get to watch you wait for it.

The effect is an ever-so-gentle comment.

On the other hand, dinky shots into the net roll right back— the 60˚ slope returns them like in a bowling alley. If you play from a chair or wheelchair, you’ll grab the balls easier.

The round top allows any number of dramatic ricochet angles.

Nappers rest their heads on it.

Skateboarders grind it.

It’s our stronger net, and it talks back to you.

What’s behind the name?

It seems there are two kinds of company names. Some, like Ford Motor Co, tell you what the company does. Abercrombie and Fitch tell us the founders’ names, and suggest that while they have passed, their company deserves our trust. Others like Google or Zoetrope coax you out of the left brain, make you poke around for the spirit that drives the company.

A henge is an oval ridge of earth dug two thousand years ago. It was the social media of prehistoric England — a place to gather. People built them for worship and ritual  (the most famous is Stonehenge). The name seemed like a natural fit.

Ballet to One-ton Concrete

Alan grew up around science and art and New Wave films in a medical family. Summertimes at his grandparents’ house in Germany he saw the country rebuild after WWII.

After college he danced for 15 years in a world-class avant-garde dance company. In 2009 he leads his own troupe. One day he hurts his foot. Doctor’s advice: don’t jump, maybe for a year. Alan disbands the troupe.

He checks the web to see if the US has concrete tennis tables like he saw in Berlin. He finds only two.

To Alan, it isn’t a big leap from a ballet company to an outdoor ping pong table company: both seek to bring together people.

The company starts out as Public Ping Pong the same month Susan Sarandon opens SPiN — the great table tennis social club in New York. The name Public Ping Pong says it all: a utility like a library that belongs to all, where when we enter we can see each other.

Unfortunately it turns out that another company owns the term ping pong. Alan’s table company needs a new name.

What Inspired HENGE

Landscape architecture, the wide profession that builds on ethics, ecology, art, physics, horticulture, soil management, urban planning, public policy, engineering, social science

  • Richter Spielgeräte in particular; Northern European playgrounds in general. Designers who mix art into objects of play.

  • Jim Miller-Melberg, American designer of “swiss cheese” concrete climbing objects and the arching concrete basketball stand. Member of an 1950s advisory board to MoMA.

  • Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK, and the hundreds of other mid-century innovators in curved concrete design.

Walkable

The population grows, in and out of cities. Some of us choose more density. Especially if we can avoid getting in the car one day a week. The more dense we are, the more we need open space, the more we need that space to engage us. How to design the outdoors?

How to walk? How to make a place someplace you’d like to walk in and shop in, and dine out in, visit for more than a day, maybe or definitely live in?

As HENGE grew since 2009, we watched the private public partnerships of the Bloomberg administration here in New York shift into high gear.

We hope our table can play a tiny role in the worldwide movement towards the walkable city. German playground designers influenced us. We tip out hats to the landscape architect, to the city planner, to the facility manager. They ask, how to engage, how to program? We ask the same question. How to make the folks come outside.

We like quiet and we like buzz. Sometimes we don’t know what we want. Until we overhear someone talk about it. Or watch them do it.

Google and Facebook promise to answer all of our questions. Outdoor space—the backyard, the courtyard, the campus, the farmer’s market, Main Street, the mall—have new competition: online.

Many people don’t mind to live in a bit more density, as long as they can walk, bike, and get to a park (and find parking).

In the cities, we live and work in the so-called built environment. We sometimes miss nature. Our bridges and airports and subways and buses face challenges. Yet we see new ideas— new park design and landscape architecture. The waterside parks are amazing in New York City. Please take the ferry to Governor's Island. 

The farmer's market of today resembles the prehistoric henge.

The Public Game

Ping pong or table tennis, whatever—this is about how to get off your phone. It's about how you face and laugh with a person ten feet away whom you may not know. They might vote differently than you.

We all know ping pong. It is in the club, the summer camp, the home garage, basement, the startup ad agency. It’s next to the couch where the coders sleep.

Now it goes public. In ancient Greece they called the public space the agora.

It's where you got a feel for what's going on. 

What is a Henge?

juliana-malta-734890-unsplash.jpg

henge is an oval ridge of earth and stone. A henge was the social media of prehistoric England. People built them for worship and ritual.  The most famous is Stonehenge. 

Four days a year in Manhattan, the setting sun dazzles everyone when it shines down one or two city streets at sunrise and sunset. The event is known as Manhattan Henge.

What we saw in the name

Nature. A henge stands for centuries. In New York City, in the built environment and where we live and work, we sometimes miss nature. Yet we see the city stride forward with modern park design and landscape architecture. The waterside parks are amazing here, please take the ferry to Governor's Island. 

People. Our goal is to get strangers to mix and find out what they have in common. 

Art. Stone Henge is early sculpture. It balances solid with emptiness, form with function.

Urban Design. People need to get out so they can see and hear each other. The prehistoric henge is like today's farmer's market. Today many people accept denser living, as long as they can walk, bike, and get to a park (and find a parking spot). A HENGE concrete ping pong table in a park today is part of that design movement toward the walkable city. 

Time. Stone lasts. A sunbeam walking across the ground marks time when it shines through the big slits of Stone Henge or the portholes in a HENGE table.

Evolution. Commerce put up the stone and steel canyons of Manhattan, London, Shanghai. The cities themselves work like a henge. They are monuments to human evolution through trade.

An Olympian Talks about Henge

Here are some great comment from a USA Table Tennis Hall of Famer and 1988 & 1992 US Olympic Team member Sean O'Neil:

“Alan, I was very excited to learn that my local park had recently installed two HENGE tables for our community.  As a two-time US Olympian, I am always looking for ways to use our sport to help bring people together.  The placing of these two pieces of “Playable Art” by our library has been a BIG HIT!

"At first I imagined that the ball would slide on the concrete surface and the bounce wouldn’t be all that true.  Boy, was I surprised when my teammate and I were able to execute all the strokes of modern table tennis with the heavy topspins and play from the back court.  I don’t know how you got the surface to be so consistent, but congratulations on the great bounce and outstanding workmanship.  I also work with Oregon Disabled Sports and thanks to this project we now have two permanent tables for our wheelchair players to use! 

If you are speaking with any other communities about installing your tables I would be happy to share my personal and professional views on the quality and playability of your product for both the disabled and able body groups.”

Sean and Tim playing on the Henge Cement table tennis table at the Beaverton Park in Portland, Oregon.