Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Intentional and Unintentional Skate-park

A bit of a throw back, both in place and in line of thought, but I have not stopped thinking about landscape architecture over the past year outside of the profession. Back in Trondheim, in the neighborhood of Rosenborg, there is a public plaza designed - at least in part - to accommodate skate boarders. This area provoked me in particular after having proposed skate parks/plazas to New York clients, who time after time turned down the idea after much consideration on the basis of liability risks and insurance costs.

The theme of this dialogue goes along with many conversations in playground design in the US - how much protection do children at play really need? Do we as designers aim to accommodate the desires of the end user (the child), or do we serve the client and become a slave to the product lines touting "safety" while knowing that the users may very well 'misuse' the elements in the end.

I feel that this plaza space tells the story well - designers cannot guarantee the use and misuse of their spaces, but they can try.

The plaza, the skaters. Variations of smooth and rough paving designate well where the skaters can go at ease.
The elements - benches, steps, plinths - aesthetic choices, or skating intrigue, or both?

The metal edge here allows skating without damaging the corner of the stone. However the light color choice of the stone and the courses of fieldstone imply that perhaps this wasn't originally intended as a skate-element.

Detail of steel edge and skate board marks.

If the squared off stone pieces were not exactly intended for skating, then these rounded elements definitely were not. Despite the soft edge and slightly rough paving, the shape clearly did not work to dissuade skaters from it.

While many see skating and such marks as a form of vandalism or disrespect to a space, I found myself appreciating them. This plaza is in an area with various sports fields, and is seldomly crossed otherwise. In this event the skaters have claimed the space as their own and allowed their marks to dually show its use, declaring themselves as a community. Skating is announced as a sport requiring a 'field', just as the adjacent basketball courts and soccer courts which were planned for. Perhaps the plaza wasn't exactly supposed to be a skate-park, but clearly there was a need for one in the area and this design serves the purpose - intentionally or unintentionally.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I read a blog a few weeks ago wherein the author held a firm stance that it is impossible to go 'off the grid' in this day and age ( It was a good reminder of everything 'the grid' encompasses, and the fact that whether we realize it or not, we are all connected. There are services we share as a society - whether you are living 'remotely' in the countryside off a long driveway or in a dense city where you see your neighbors every day. What strikes me as interesting is that with all we share, why is it so difficult for western society to identify with the concept of communal resources. Is it because our electric wires and sewer systems are buried underground, or is it simply that the road has been there so long we forget that it belongs to all of us? 

Now that I am returning to city life I will continue to ponder this and wonder how it is that we designers might be able to exploit the communal-ity of infrastructure and help residents understand the connections that make their (local) world work. And further, to help us remember that the most important systems we need to deliver the resources we live from are not only the man-made technological ones, but also those natural ones which we so often take for granted.