Jean Poole of Skynoise.net interviews Professor Iain Borden who has revolutionized contemporary architecture with his radical thoughts on space and its non-utilization. His book on skateboarding/ollie, Skateboarding, Space & The City : Architecture and the Body is the context of this particular interview.
The book has appeal for both (sub)cultural theorists and those who like to ollie, and unfolds an engaging history of public versus private space and skateboarding as a subculture and filter of urban experience.
How do you describe your research/book at parties?
People use cities in ways different to how architects and planners intended them to be used, and as a skater I wanted to say something about the history of that activity.
Sk8ing & theory make unusual bedfellows – how were the seeds sown for your book?
In the late 80s I was a PhD student at UCLA, and asked to write an essay on something about LA that I knew about, but no one else in the class knew. I was also taking studying Henri Lefebvre, so writing about skateboarding and spatial theory grew from that moment. I’ve generally been interested in the history of architecture from the point of view of the user i.e. Those who experience and utilised space and buildings, rather than those who design and make it.
If writing about music, is like dancing about architecture, then what does that make you?
Er, confused in mind and body.
How has skateboarding shaped your appreciation of architecture?
Skateboarding lets you experience buildings not as a set of objects, designed by architects, but as a set of spatial experiences. By this I mean that moving around on a skateboard makes you consider buildings and landscapes as a set of opportunities to skate, you are constantly sizing up banks, ledges, curves, curbs and so on for their ability to be skated upon. So there is this initial process of interrogation, looking at architecture differently, working out whether it can be skated or not. And then there is the actual engagement with the architecture, using the skateboard and your body in relation to the physicality of the building, and here one appreciates architecture differently again, this time as a direct sensual engagement, less to do with the mind and more to do the living body that we all possess.
How does sk8boarding critique architecture & capitalism?
Skateboarding is a critique of the Protestant work ethic, the idea that we should always be working to produce something: a product or a service to sell. Skateboarders (non-pros), at least while skateboarding, don’t generally do this, and so skateboarding suggests we can produce different things: expend energy not as work, but as the production of emotions, actions, effort and play. Skateboarding is also a partial critique of commodity consumption, i.e. when not working we should be consuming things. Again, skateboarders use urban space and buildings without buying anything, treating the city as a free wealth for all to enjoy.
Can u describe ‘rhythmanalysis’ simply, and how skating fits into this?
Rhythmanalysis is the term used by Henri Lefebvre to describe space associated with actions of the body, the space produced by walking, or by moving, or by breathing, or by the cycles of reproduction and regeneration. Space as lived over time, by people with physical bodies. For skateboarding this might mean such things as the speedy space of moving over the pavement, or the rhythmic space of a skater on a half-pipe, or the weekly or seasonal patterns by which skaters return to particular spaces over the course of days, weeks or even years.
How has your research affected the way you skate?
If anything, I guess it has made me want to enjoy my skating as a bodily experience and as a kind of play and fun for me, that means enjoying simple things like carves and grinds rather than worrying about new tricks, and feeling the concrete move underneath me. I tend to be more of an old school skater than a streetskater . . .
3 things architects could learn from skaters?
Take risks. Learn from others. But do it your own way.
What interesting responses have u had from architects or theorists?
Lots of surprise that this was even a subject worth thinking about it . . . but then a lot of interest in the way other people can use and enjoy architecture in ways the architects never even dreamt of.
Do you know any architects who design with skaters in mind?
Not really, most architects don’t really get to design major buildings until they are at least in their 40s, and often into their 50s or older. So given that there are now a load of 40-something architects who used to skate in the 1970s, I reckon we are probably due some serious skate-friendly buildings over the next decade or so.
Favourite skateboard trick names?
Invert, layback, frontside – I like the ones that refer to the position of the skater’s body.
Can u recall any good skate-dreams?
Hmm, skateboarding tends to appear in my dreams as a representation of anxiety, where I have forgotten how to ride a pool, or some such frustration. Not sure if this good or bad, but at least I do dream about it. . . .
What would you prefer to ollie – the skull of einstein, a cloned sheep or a gaff-taped Tony Blair?
Definitely a gaff-taped TB – time to make the bugger realise that we don’t all want to be Christian, well-behaved model citizens all of the time.
Iain Borden is currently Vice Dean for Communications at the The Bartlett, University College, London and Professor of Architecture and Urban Culture.