‘A wild three-storey sandwich’: the world’s first multi-storey skatepark comes to Folkestone | Architecture
A large aluminum arch landed in the center of Folkestone, like a beached futuristic container ship. Her steeply sloping sides are covered in a skin of crushed wire mesh that envelops the imposing vessel from blind stern to flared bow, punctuated only by a few triangular windows. There’s no indication of what it might contain – until you get closer and see large bowl-like shapes bulging from the ceiling and bursting into the glass facade above the Entrance. Enter and you find yourself under a puffy cloud of concrete that ripples and swells with the unmistakable undulations of a skatepark, as the sound of accelerating wheels echoes above your head.
“Originally, we were asked to design a multi-storey car park,” explains Guy Hollaway, architect of the F51, as this sparkling arrival in the Kent seaside town is nicknamed. “But when a nearby skatepark had to be moved, we were asked to incorporate it into the design. The client increasingly thought the cars looked boring, so we got rid of that and created the world’s first multi-storey skatepark.
The client in question is Sir Roger de Haan, a local businessman and philanthropist who sold the Saga holiday empire for £1.3billion in 2004 and has since pumped millions into the regeneration of Folkestone. His charitable trust funded the construction of an academy school and sports centre, set up numerous galleries and studios, and transformed the harbor with a new promenade.
Having sprinkled the city with beautiful, regenerative pixie dust and cementing the place as a cultural capital with the Folkestone Triennial, De Haan has now embarked on a massive development of luxury apartments on the seafront Currently emerging from the sands, the 1,000 housing project, 8% of which will be affordable, has polarized the city. Some see it as a welcome additional investment, others as pure real estate speculation aimed at out-of-town buyers.
“He does the opposite of most developers,” says Hollaway, “investing heavily in the community before building the apartments, rather than doing it as a token gesture afterward.” F51 is certainly far beyond what any developer would normally cough up: a £17m “adrenaline-building” gift to the city.
The phrase world premiere is overused, but there really is nothing quite like it anywhere else on the planet. It’s a wild three-story sandwich of kickflips and ollies, plus the highest indoor climbing wall in south-east Britain, all floating above a room boxing and a coffee. Drawings of the building look like something out of an unlikely student project: climbers scale one side of the structure, while skateboarders leap past them, pumping between mounds and quarter pipes, while a boxing match beats full sound at the bottom, under the undulating rack. of floors.
There are continual views between different parts of the building, which stretches outward as it rises, forming a dynamic sense of a buzzing, vibrant place at the seams. For Iain Borden, architectural historian and author of Skateboarding and the City, it’s a game-changing game, “as surprising and shocking as the 1955 Citroën DS was for car design, and as cohesive and timely as the 2007 iPhone was for smartphones”.
The three different levels cater to all ages and abilities, ranging from shallow ramps for beginners to concrete bowls deep enough to entertain even the most intrepid Olympians. The smoother flow park at the top of the building is a seamless wooden world, designed for skateboarders, scooters and BMXs. It’s dotted with mounds (or “pump bumps”) and volcanoes, where the ground rises to blend into the building’s heavy concrete columns, while a “green” ramp launches runners seemingly within reach of orange steel beams that cross the ceiling, five meters above our heads.
The ground floor houses a “street park”, which is equipped with elements reminiscent of the urban landscape, with steps, rails and ledges for sliding and grinding – also in plywood to allow the park to be easily updated as skating evolves. Manufactured by specialists Cambian, the wooden floors have been designed as fine cabinetry, with each piece of the intricate puzzle cut in their Sussex factory and then hand-finished on site. Cutouts on both levels provide dizzying views of the climbing wall, designed as a three-sided crevasse, with numerous overhangs and an Olympic-spec speedwall, with large red buttons to time your ascent.
Finally, the first floor is home to the spectacular boules park, a sculptural symphony of polished concrete that dips and swells with heartbeats, as commissioned by the late Zaha Hadid. To one side is what’s called a capsule bowl, along with skatable columns where the floor curves between two massive pillars. It’s a nod to the famous Burnside DIY skatepark in Portland, Oregon, built by a group of skaters under a bridge in the 1990s, which has since become a benchmark for these makeshift skateparks around the world. Along the same lines, there’s a swimming pool, with a frieze of pool tiles and a specialized stone coping, inspired by the empty swimming pools of California where skateboarding began.
“We wanted to emulate the origins of dogtown bowling,” says Hollaway, referencing the nickname for Santa Monica in the 1970s, where skateboarders began testing their skills in pools that had been emptied due to drought. F51’s pool features vertical sides and a double cascade, as the transition between levels is called, plunging nearly three meters at the deep end. “It’s a legit pool that will challenge even the most expert riders,” says Borden.
The work of skatepark company Maverick, more accustomed to pouring its concrete landscapes directly into the ground, the floor of the bowl was made all the more complex as it had to be suspended in the air. A primary concrete slab was first poured into sculpted polystyrene moulds, to create the visible domed underside, with a secondary layer of concrete sprayed on top, hand troweled for a smooth finish with care to glaze a cake.
Started in 2015, and delayed for several years by technical difficulties and the Covid, the opening of the project is timely to catch up with the recent boom in skateboarding. The pandemic has seen the biggest surge since 2000, when the release of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater game sparked new interest, and skateboard sales increased by more than 30% last year. There are now 1,650 outdoor parks across the UK and 65 indoor parks, according to Skateboard GB, the new national governing body set up since skateboarding became an Olympic sport for Tokyo 2020 – an event that has seen a new peak for sport, especially among girls, after 13-year-old Sky Brown picked up a bronze medal for Great Britain.
“We’re keen to counter the idea that if you don’t play team sports, you’re not athletic,” says Dan Hulme of the Sports Trust, the arm of De Haan’s charitable foundation responsible for running the F51. Their coaching program with local schools will run skateboard lessons as well as workshops covering graphic design, videography and skatepark design. “It paves the way for so many different areas,” he says.
It’s a markedly different approach to when skate fever first swept the UK in the 1970s, spawning several commercial indoor skateparks that turned out to be expensive failures. In 1978, two major London parks opened: Rolling Thunder in Brentford, which had a stunning concrete landscape cast inside a former market hall; and Mad Dog Bowl, Europe’s largest skatepark at the time, housed in the former Astoria cinema on Old Kent Road.
“They were amazing places,” says Borden, who started skating aged 15 in 1977. “But they got the timing and the attitude completely wrong. The skateboarding boom was already fading by the time they opened, and they were run like golf clubs, with expensive membership fees and formal management, so most closed by the 1980s. »
In contrast, F51 will offer a £1 monthly after-school pass to local children, with skateboarding to be actively incorporated into the academy’s school curriculum. “Skateparks are so often located in seedy places outside of town,” says Hollaway. “We wanted it to be a beacon right in the middle, telling young people, ‘You are the most important customer in town – because you are the future.'”