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September 16, 2007 Weblog:

Skateboarding, Parkour and Architecture


Photo by Jens-Olaf, creative commons 2.0

Back in 2005, I wrote a review of an art exhibit about skateboarding as a critique of architecture.

In the artwork and the narrative that accompanies it, the exhibit is unabashedly theory-driven. In the large-type wall mounted introduction, curator Anthony Kiendl proposes that skateboarding can be the basis of a "critique of architecture, social spaces, and the values constituted by those spaces." Further comments displayed on the walls alongside the artwork by architectural historian Iain Borden (among others) speak of "movement of the body across social space", of skateboarding as "a reassessment of the values of society as expressed through the reappropriation of social space," or as a kind of "performative language".

[...] A discussion of the skateboarder as flâneur invokes Baudelaire and Benjamin, among others. Like the young men of 19th century Paris celebrated by urban critics and poets of the time, skateboarders are not only a part of the cityscape, but a critical, aloof, self-conscious force within it.

The embedded theoretical text also discusses the privilege granted to "the vertical" in urban architecture and posits the skateboarder as a subversive force that asserts her value in the horizontal plane. Emphasis is taken from the towering edifice and transferred to the ledges, curbs, benches and other ground-level surfaces that surround it. The authority of columns and grandiose feats of engineering are rejected in favour of the immediate human interface available on the ground. (In the language of one of the many quoted theorists, "hierarchies" are "reintegrated from vertical to horizontal arrangements".)

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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