Folkestone’s multi-storey skatepark – A future centre for competitive skateboarding?
Words: Daryl Mersom | Renderings: Guy Hollaway Architects
With the announcement that skateboarding will be a part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ringing in our ears, and the Vans Pro Skate Park Series all over our Instagram feeds, it seems that competitive skateboarding is having a bit of a moment. And in late summer 2017 the UK will have a place to train its future Olympians, as Folkestone, a small Kentish town, is being transformed into a world centre for competitive skateboarding.
Billionaire Sir Roger De Haan has commissioned the architect Guy Hollaway to design a multi-storey skatepark in the heart of the town, in a bid to make Folkestone a site for world class skateboarding competitions. This will be Guy’s first foray into skatepark design.
»Folkestone, a small Kentish town, is being transformed into a world centre for competitive skateboarding«
The project is itself a world's first, and so Maverick Industries, who have previously built skateparks such as Midsomer Norton and Haverfordwest, have been brought in to make sure that the final design works for all manner of wheeled users.
Originally, the plan was to build a multi-storey carpark in the centre of the town, but both Roger and Guy felt that the space could be better used. The brief is now to build one of the best skateparks in the world, that will attract visitors to Folkestone, and in turn regenerate the town. For Guy, “it’s about putting young people first and saying ‘you are important, you are so important, in terms of the regeneration of the town, that we want to put you right in the heart of the town.’ We want to make this recreational pursuit part of their memory of growing up, so that hopefully they will want to stay in the town, or if they move away they will want to come back and bring up their own kids in Folkestone."
The project has already drawn a lot of attention to Folkestone, and many people are watching avidly to see if it will be a success or not.
»Originally, the plan was to build a multi-storey carpark in the centre of Folkestone, but both Roger and Guy felt that space could be better used«
One of the concepts behind the park is its positioning in the town centre. The architects wanted to explore what happens when you take skateparks from the outskirts of towns, where they are unmonitored and, in the words of Guy, liable to ‘engender antisocial behaviour,’ and move them to town centres. Since space is so valuable in the centres of our modern towns and cities, building up seemed like a great idea.
“If you were to put an open skatepark in the centre of a town it would dominate the town. It would become the most important thing. It is a bit like when you go to MACBA and it is full of skaters out the front, and the activity does dominate the square. But the moment you put skaters on multiple layers, up in the air, so at street level, it is all glass with a café, it becomes possible to integrate skateboarders into an urban town centre", Guy continues.
The multi-storey skatepark will have a street section on the top floor. Then there will be a bowl floor, and what Maverick are calling a “flow floor". The flow floor will be the largest of all, stretching across the entire building. It will also be shallower than the bowl floor, and less geared towards competitions. It will feature waterfalls and lots of hips, and will flow from one end of the building to the other.
»The moment you put skaters on multiple layers, up in the air, so at street level, it is all glass with a café, it becomes possible to integrate skateboarders into an urban town centre« – Guy Hollaway, commissioned architect for Folkstone skatepark
Three particularly striking features include the convex bowl roof; the mesh walls of the upper floors; and the proposed longboard path leading into the town.
The roof of the ground floor will be beneath the base of the bowls, and so at some points the underside of the bowl will drop to 2.4 metres above your head, and then rise to 4 or 5 metres in other areas. The inverted shape of the bowl will look like some kind of moonscape.
For Guy, Folkestone skatepark is one of his most technically challenging projects yet. “Each of the floors are what we call cold floors, they are open to the elements. Mesh will keep the weather out. So as you can imagine, the ground floor, which is like a normal closed building, is heated. And so we have to try to insulate between an undulating floor and a café space. That presents a lot of challenges."
Big air handling units are being looked at as a way of forcing humidity through the building, so that on those cold winter days the skatepark floor will not become slick. Although there may be a few days in the year when it is impossible to skate, this should not be cause for concern. For a start, the entire place will be dry most of the year.
The proposed longboard journey, which would run from the skatepark down the high street and all the way out onto the harbour, would help the building to connect with the rest of the town. “We want the building to extend its tentacles into the town. We want to create a journey for longboarders, we’re developing the idea now, but the first thing you have to do is create the centre, and from there we want the building to evolve and become a part of the culture of the place."
Of course all of this sounds rather ambitious, but Guy and his team have sought advice from a variety of sources. They have consulted local skateboarders, Maverick, and also Iain Borden, an academic who has written on skateboarding, and has advised skateboarding projects before. He will be acting as a critical friend to Guy’s team on this project.
»The aim of the project is very clear: Folkestone is to become a key destination for competitive skateboarding, at a time when the sport is being codified ready for the Olympics«
There are also obvious benefits to skating on different and unconnected levels. It is possible to introduce different session times for various groups. Sessions might be split up according to ability, age, or gender. There is also the potential to host parties and competitions, whilst the other levels are used for everyday skate sessions.
The skatepark is a huge investment in the town, and Guy and his team are positive about its future.
“I love learning about new things and creating new building projects. I think that a lot of people are watching this project keenly, it is very rare for a town to put this kind of investment into a project like this. Cities need to engage with young people and create recreational spaces, but to integrate skateboarding into urban life, where space is at an absolute premium, is difficult. If we can come up with a solution which brings the skateboarding opportunity to the young people in their city, then I think we’ve got a really interesting concept."
Barry Pluck, at the Folkestone Amateur Boxing Club, shared this sense of optimism for the project:
“I think it’s going to be phenomenal for Folkestone. Growing up the youngsters have been limited as to what’s available in the town, but there are now so many more opportunities for young people. We would have never imagined the skatepark being built in a place like Folkestone – it’s a world class facility that will get so much interest from around the world. It just shows how far Folkestone has come on over the past ten years."
The aim of the project is very clear – Folkestone is to become a key destination for competitive skateboarding, at a time when the sport is being codified ready for the Olympics. And you cannot hold an international skateboarding competition if rain threatens to call it off, so you need a roof. It will be interesting to visit the finished skatepark and to session it on a damp day, to see how well the mesh works.
Whether Folkestone skatepark creates its own events, or pitches to host existing events – it seems very likely that we will be hearing more much about the park. It hasn’t even been built yet, and already the hype around it is massive. Whether or not it can live up to the wide range of big expectations… that will remain to be seen.