USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Jump off a Building

In a recently assigned reading, “Made in Tokyo” the author connects the values of contemporary urban sports to the environments in which they are born, namely skateboarding.  I found particular resonance with this section of the article.  As a skateboarder, I continually find myself weighing the pros and cons of each city we visit in terms of the sport.  I am always pointing out “good skate spots”, and thinking about how architectural and urban elements can be utilized via the board.  “By finding residual spaces inside the closely packed urban field, and using human action to turn those surfaces into sports fields, the elements of the city gain a whole new appearance.”  Stairs become something to jump down, ledges become something to jump on, ramps become something to jump off.  Every piece of architecture is broken down into a set of elements, which are then re-visualized as urban skate parks.  How can you link one trick to the next to create a “line”?  This begins to mix architectural language with skateboarding language.  Circulation, solid/void, sequence, materiality, and even urbanism take on a whole new meaning when perceived through the lens of the sport.

One question that remains is why more designers don’t use this link between sport and architecture to their advantage.  Two days ago we visited Norman Foster’s Hong Kong Shanghai Bank.  At the ground floor, inside the voided open-air lobby, we witnessed a truly amazing spectacle.  Every Sunday, hundreds of people gather in this space to spend time with family members, eat meals and socialize.  They are so densely packed you can barely see the ground.  Obviously, this was not Foster’s intention at all.  Who would have thought a bank would become a hot spot for family time?  I see this same situation happening all the time with respect to skateboarding; interesting and physically unique pieces of architecture that become the best and most popular places to practice the sport.  Yet it is never the designer’s intent to have people skating all over their work.  If architects are able to understand this phenomenon, then they could use it as a design tool to stimulate urbanism and create a functional, programmatic and social relationship between their work and the people.

That being said, the architect must also consider the social ecology of the environment they are designing, as well as that of the larger city.  For a design to function harmoniously between the public culture and the skateboarding culture, and to ensure a duality of usage, programmatic planning and spatial designations must be carefully considered.  Since skateboarders utilize many different public amenities (stairs, seating, access ramps), it is necessary to allow the sport to function without disengaging the environment’s intended public use.  Furthermore, I find the sport’s nature particularly conducive to the social ecology of Hong Kong.  Unlike the respectful, collective and civil culture of Japan, Hong Kong’s culture is a bit more brazen and independent.  People will bump into you on the subways and streets, cars always have the right of way, and forget about any form of courteous bow or thank you.  It is not unlike major urban capitals in the West in this regard, such as New York and Los Angeles where skateboarding is most prevalent.  People don’t seem to mind the proximity of crowds and muliple activities, as evidenced in the Foster building.  Therefore, a successful balance between activity, public culture and host environment can be established.

Lastly, the economic concerns that hamper skateboarding in the West can be solved during the design process.  Property damage can be minimized with the use of proper materials and construction methods, both of which have already been perfected in skate park and skate plaza design.  Combining these material strategies with the proper programming moves, and factoring in the established social ecology of metropolitan cities, skateboarding can certainly be utilized as an urban design incentive.  If it is used accordingly, and whether or not it is successful… only time will tell.

Kaijima, Momoyo, Junzo Kuroda, and Yoshiharu Tsukamoto. Made in Tokyo. Tokyo: Kajima Inst. Publ., 2001. Print.

Filed under: America, Architecture, Made in Tokyo, Skateboarding, Uncategorized, Urbanism, Video


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu