We've stumbled upon Daniel Yabar's skatepark design work in Spain recently. His playful and creative approach to building skate architecture instantly left us not only wanting to skate his parks but also to learn more about his unique approach.
If you have ever screwed together a grind box or poured a tranny – even just put a second thought into what could be built for skating, Daniel and his philosophy on skatepark design might be for you.
Words: Jan Kliewer | Photos: Courtesy of Daniel Yabar
Kingpin: What's your view about skating, your philosophy? What is it that attracts you most to skateboarding?
Daniel Yabar: The best feeling skateboarding gives me is: Having fun, hanging out with friends and trying tricks as best as you can. But there are other awesome feelings: traveling, meeting new people, filming, etc. Each skater may have his own view, own style and goals, yet we all share the same passion. This is why I like to believe individual and collective identities can co-exist. Skateboarding provides millions of people a collective identity. It doesn’t matter if you are from Russia, Germany, Brazil, the US or Spain. Nowadays you can buy all kinds of identities in the market by association of certain brands, and skateboarding is in no way any different. It’s identity is a product you can consume. When I hear about skateboarding in terms of a sport, culture and or lifestyle, I feel none of them describes it completely. Skateboarding creates identities for many people as much as religion or nation.
»Skateboarding is an Olympic sport now, this will be positive: more awareness about the need for skateparks. But at the same time the risk of standardised skateparks exists more than ever«
What's your dream skate spot?
There is not just one. Even if you have the best/biggest skatepark around at some point you would like to change. Sometimes it can be just a good flat and a long bench. Other times it is about the people you hang out with and not about the spot. (Personally,) I would like to skate a bowl made of tiles. Just for the feeling. But I'm sure if I do it local skaters would try to kill me.
Spain right now is a dream skate spot. Barcelona, Madrid, Málaga, Sevilla, Bilbao. Awesome spots, skateparks, fun people and nice weather – sounds like a cliche but it´s true. It's interesting because the whole country is going through turbulent times. A major crisis, corruption, scandal after scandal, but it’s also a skateboarding paradise. I guess, it’s the positive side effect of the “XL Urbanism" we’ve had for decades.
How did you get into designing skateparks and building?
While I was finishing my university studies in Sevilla, I met Diego Garteiz, an architect from Bilbao. I worked at his office for four years. He was developing interesting projects such as vineyards, bullfighting arenas, offices, etc. Being part of his team, I had the chance to help design some skateparks at Oviedo and Gijón. At this point I realized that I could combine my work with my passion for skateboarding. I now have my own architectural studio.
What do you aim for in creating good skateparks?
I try to find a balance between pragmatism and ambition. The first problem you have to face is the language. We keep referring every project to “skateparks". Sometimes the word “skatepark" is too generic, when you have a lot of possibilities: skateplazas, bowls, pumptracks etc. I think it is imperative to define pure and clear concepts for each project. Moreover, a clear concept creates identity. Most of the time the program needs are: “We want a skatepark with a little bit of everything". This hardly ever is a realistic scenario most, and in such situations it is hard to find the balance between pragmatism and ambition.
»Skateboarding creates identities for many people as much as religion or nation«
Space and economic conditions at the Logroño Streetplaza for example, were not suitable for a ramp & street skatepark. The city of Logroño has two private skateparks with amazing ramps. So I decided to design a street course instead. I didn’t want to call it a “skateplaza" because I knew that a lot of bikers, rollers and scooters will use it. I had to deal with a similar problem at the Nepal Skatepark reform in Madrid. There were many stakeholders who demanded to include street spots inside the bowl. But in my opinion keeping the old radical trannies and a pure ramp concept was essential.
What's the biggest challenge in designing and also realising a good skate park?
The first step is to decide and define a clear concept. That´s why the management model is so important. The decision making process is not the same in a DIY, a public skatepark or in a private one. You need to understand the logic behind each management model. After this the challenge becomes a technical issue. It depends on your skills, sensibility and precision. Each project will bring another set of different challenges. In Vitoria for example the landscape concept was to deform the urban furniture to create a new urban scene. The local skaters´ demands were simple: most of the skatepark flats are horrible. So the challenge was to work with different textures to create different slide areas.
Where do you take inspiration for your work?
I love my job. I love to explore skateparks on Google Earth and study them. But I am also quite inquisitive about other aspects. I watch a lot of quantum physics and astronomical YouTube documentaries. I like to read about politics, art and history. Right now, after watching “Narcos", I´m learning more and more about Colombia. I guess all this supposedly random information makes possible inspiration when you need it. However, as Picasso said, “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working".
»I am personally more focused on space and texture than look and shape. Space defines the skatepark lines and texture enhances the skateboard experience«
Also the people around inspire me. My father and my girlfriend have had a big influence on me. I´ve learned a lot from them and I consider their opinions and advice. In my day to day work they are a great inspiration.
How would you describe your style of skateparks?
I’d like to think that I don’t have a particular “skatepark style" as that would mean that I apply the same solution to different problems. Contextually, program needs and local demands are never the same. So you need a unique strategy for each project. Picasso had also a nice phrase to explain this idea: “To copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility".
What’s the most fun bit about your job? What sucks the most?
To witness kids’ happiness and motivation when they skate the park for their first time is priceless. The worst is to deal with people who don’t put in a lot of effort in their job.
Are looks as important as shapes these days?
The look is important because it creates an identity. If this is one of the project goals then it´s ok. The problem comes when there is nothing behind the look. Architecture must be functional but not necessary beautiful. I have made functional projects without any aesthetic criteria. I really think they are good skateparks. Each project has different objectives and I think that’s perfectly fine. In fact, I am personally more focused on space and texture than look and shape. Space defines the skatepark lines and texture enhances the skateboard experience.
Which park you haven't designed would you love to be able to claim?
Probably the 70´s Carlsbad Skate Park. Not just because it’s one of first ever built, but because the concrete desert concept has inspired hundreds of skateparks.
»I would like to skate a bowl made of tiles. Just for the feeling. But I'm sure if I do it local skaters would try to kill me«
Which one of your projects/which park feature are you most stoked on?
I´m very stoked with the new Logroño Streetplaza. I guess it’s normal because construction has just finished and the skate scene has definitely changed. The skatepark tile had never been used in a skatepark before and I´m happy how it´s working now. I am also stoked on the Denia Bowl. I believe we did a nice job balancing creativity and functionality.
Someone is choosing the easy way!
Where do you see skateboarding in general headed and which role do see skateparks play?
There is momentarily a debate with two strong opposite positions which according to me both have their inherent flaws. Inconsistency and contradiction seem to be characteristics of contemporary societies. It is an increasingly polarised and very artificial debate in my opinion and raises questions in which there is no possible discussion. You can not be against or in favour of globalisation. – It is a fact! Corporations try to drive media campaigns to reach the widest possible audience, delocalise production and foster aggressive trade policies. They defend values close to Olympic ideals, but at the same time they do not guarantee their commitment to skateboarding. Neither do they guarantee their commitment to human rights by delocalising production.
»Skateboarding is pure creativity. There are no rules in skateboarding and skate park design should reflect that reality, otherwise it could be something quite similar to a football playground«
The other side claims to maintain control of the essence and its origins. SMEs and small entities operated by skaters do not compete on equal terms in the financial sector and taxation. But they often contradict themselves when competing in the same context of relocation. Their greatest strength is to defend that "skateboarding should be defined by skaters, not corporations". It is here where they connect with a lot of skaters. However, it is too late to claim ethics when observing their behaviour. In fact they are utilising the same behaviour they criticise bigger companies for. Hyperconsumption has become an engine of western societies.
Skateparks are simply one more aspect of this context. It is an important part of the skateboarding industry. Usually a skatepark provides very positive things to local skateboard communities. When a new skatepark is built the local scene changes. In addition, social networks around the public space reinforce these communities. But it is also part of spectacle and consumption. In this sense the risk comes through standardisation. Skateboarding is pure creativity and skateparks should reflect this in the way they're designed. There are no rules in skateboarding and skate park design should reflect that reality, otherwise it could be something quite similar to a football playground. Now that skateboarding is an Olympic sport, this will be positive for skateboarding as there will be more awareness about the need for skateparks. But at the same time the risk of standardised skateparks exists more than ever.
Where do you want to take your work or where do you see your park designing go?
I would like to continue exploring new solutions in the management model. I also want to continue improving quality. Implementing compatible uses with skateboarding as we did in San Jose de la Rinconada in which we included a basketball court inside the skatepark. Many skate parks have become marginal places because their perceived usage has been severely limited. The city is alive when the habits and customs are juxtaposed. We still have a lot to do in this field! The idea of a skatepark should evolve as it has to be integrated into tomorrow's city life, reflecting the diversity of the cosmopolitan city, or village.
What's next for you? What are you most excited on to be working on right now?
I'm working on some projects related to skateboarding and some that have nothing to do with it. I am involved in a project to reform a public space for runners. I designed a skatepark in Tenerife, which is under construction, incorporating the diverse landscape of the island. I am also involved in projects that soon will be built such as a reform of an existing skatepark in Zaragoza and a bikepark in Cornella.