The Bartlett


Changing perceptions of skateboarding

Professor Iain Borden has played a central role in challenging the popular understanding of skateboarding.

He looks at how skateboarding creates a new understanding of urban space, showing how cities and architecture are not just built by architects and urban planners, but remade constantly through everyday use.

Skateboarding is perceived with bemusement by many. This work has contributed to a paradigm shift in how the public, media, design professionals, urban planners, and skateboarders themselves, understand and inhabit these spaces.

Professor Borden, from The Bartlett School of Architecture, used his research to answer an important question: how to provide spaces for urban sports without diminishing their counter-cultural nature?

Skateplaza, Milton Keynes

In 2002, he advised Milton Keynes on how to develop what was later called a ‘skateplaza’ – skateboarding sites that are more like ordinary streets and less like custom-made facilities.

When the £100,000 Buszy facility opened in 2005 – designed by Richard Ferrington, Rob Selby and local skaters – it was called by professional skateboarders ‘the best spot they have ever skated’ and sparked a new trend for skateplaza design that skateboarders actually enjoyed using.

Over 100 similar facilities have been established, ranging from the small Fisher Lane Park in Mansfield to the 3200 square metre Central Forest Park in Stoke, which cost £500,000.

In the media

Professor Borden is one of the main sources for media and artists investigating skateboarding. He has been interviewed in newspapers and on television around the world, and provided the ideas underlying important films such as the avant-garde Hacking the Streets (2009–10) and exhibitions such as Rise of Rad at the Torrance Museum in California (2010).

This media work has contributed to a better public understanding of skateboarding.

The Undercroft, London

The Undercroft at the Southbank Centre in London, which is considered the sport’s original home in the UK, was under threat. Professor Borden contributed to documentaries and news coverage arguing that this site was as important to London life as a village green. He participated in the movement that led to over 50,000 members joining the ‘Long Live the Southbank’ campaign.

In 2013, he also worked with the Southbank Centre, who agreed to allocate £1 million and an alternative permanent site under the Hungerford Bridge designed for skateboarding, BMX, graffiti and other urban sports.

Professor Borden developed the design brief for the space. In the end, the campaign to save the Undercroft was successful, with the Southbank Centre entering into a planning agreement to guarantee the future of skateboarding at its historic home.

The Rom Skatepark, London

In 2014, Professor Borden’s work also directly led to the English Heritigae listing of the “Rom” skatepark in London – the first skatepark in Europe to be given historic preservation status.

This has been widely reported on the BBC, ITV and news media globally.