Skating the City

Skateboarding and architecture go hand in hand, but only recently have Danish city planners begun including skateboarders in the big decisions. What began as an obscure and overlooked subculture is now finding support from public and private actors at an increasing rate.

One thing Denmark has in abundance is rain, and we expect to see more of in the coming decades. For city planners and architects it is a huge challenge. With 40 billion DKK of projected expenditures on rain drainage over the next twenty years towns across Denmark are forced to make good use of every bit of their budgets and every inch of available land.


In Roskilde, 40 kilometers west of Copenhagen, architect and skateboarder Søren Enevoldsen has come up with something to satisfy both conditions. Dispensing with the traditional approach, where drain canals are hidden away and off-limits to the public, Søren’s firm SNE Architects opted for a solution that cleverly combines fun and recreation with a supremely practical purpose.


“If we were to channel all the rain water through the regular sewer system, it would need to be at least twice as big, and that’s not going to happen,” Søren explains. “Instead, we want to create multifunctional solutions for draining excess rain water from the cities. The need is greater in urban areas, where space is already scarce. So we must rethink our design and use of public areas like parks, roadsides and school yards.”


Instead of being a drab no-man’s land, Rabalderparken in Roskilde incorporates a huge concrete skateboard pool area, small concert venues, relaxation spots and art installations. In case of heavy rain, the area alleviates the pressure on the sewer system by absorbing large volumes of water.


“If we can use the sanitation department’s budget to create something that has extra value for the taxpayers, it’s a win-win situation,” Søren says.





It wasn’t always like that, explains William Frederiksen. As head of the indoor facility Copenhagen Skate Park, he is a public employee and the skateboarders’ interface with the political world.


“If we look back further than ten years, there wasn’t much of a dialogue between the skateboarders and the local politicians,” he says. “When we established the Skate Park in 2005, all of a sudden the politicians knew whom to talk to about skateboarding. It gave us a voice. Since then there has been a tremendous development.”


The current trend in outdoor skate park construction is to use concrete. It is a vestige of the Californian skateboard culture of the 1970s, where youngsters used to ride empty swimming pools. Since it was inaugurated in 2011, Fælledparken – a 23 million DKK, 4.500sqm outdoor skate park in Copenhagen made possible by a private donation from the Mærsk Foundation – has fostered a generation of homegrown concrete builders. Now Danish architects like Søren Enevoldsen are less dependent on foreign expertise when new projects are executed.


“With roots in Sweden the concrete wave has been underway for almost twenty years now,” says William Frederiksen. “The skateboarders started out using the DIY skate spots as a kind of graffiti, where they simply constructed small ramps and obstacles in unauthorised places. Via the American builders who constructed Fælledparken came an exchange of skills and professional techniques. The locals taught others, and now the skills are spreading across the country.”



“Creative architecture has resulted in the kinds of public spaces that attract skateboarders.”


The skateboarders have seen a significant change in their relationship with public and private property owners, from hostility to indifference to a warm embrace.


“Before, when I saw an architect plan for a public area, there were always some skateboarders drawn in the background. But only on paper. When it was actually built, they were nowhere to be seen. This has changed,” William says.

Jarmers Plads in central Copenhagen is a fine illustration of this point. When the plaza opened in 1995, it was like a long-awaited gift to the street skaters, but they weren’t welcomed with open arms by owners, architects, nor authorities. Only later did the skateboarders’ adversaries realise that the kids were the only ones bringing life to an otherwise stale area.


Søren Enevoldsen has seen it happen many times.


“Creative architecture has resulted in the kinds of public spaces that attract skateboarders. It’s not necessarily because the architects intend it, but as soon as they see their constructions being used actively for skateboarding, it inspires them to do more.”

KGS Nytorv