Talking skatepark design with Rune Glifberg. A few months back Rune rolled through London to film for Sidewalk's Concrete Dinosaurs project. There was of course, it being England, a rain day so we took the opportunity to chat with Rune about his skatepark design company Glifberg & Lykke, the economic benefits of a good skatepark, what impact the Olympics could have on park design, and more besides...
Beginning with skatepark obstacles, what was the first obstacle you designed and built?
I built a jump ramp when I was around 11 or 12, but I want to say the first original design I came up with that was built was the Volcom vert ramp. I guess that was copied over and over, a lot of people have done vert ramps with the closed in angle on the end walls since. That came about because we didn’t have that much room, at the time when vert ramps were really wide, we had a warehouse with a big pole in the middle so there was only so much space that we could use. It wasn’t wide enough so I thought why don’t we try to angle in, so you can come down and it will shoot you back where you came from. It’s almost like a boomerang effect, you go as fast as you can towards one end and it has something to catch you and shoot you back just as fast, so it almost makes the ramp twice as wide.
Almost like skating a bowl corner in a vert ramp?
Yeah, in a way. I think that one was probably the tallest one out of all of them, if you’re making an extension the taller the better because it will give you way more speed, I think it was a 2ft extension. I’ll say that was the first one I came up with that actually worked. I was working with Remy Stratton at the time and brought the idea to him, he backed it, Team Pain built the ramp for us and it was a great success. It was copied over and over, it’s almost like a normal thing for people to build vert ramps that way now. Pretty proud of that one.
How did the building company begin? What was your motivation for starting it?
Well we do designs, so we’re not actually building as such. It came about because Fælledparken skatepark in Copenhagen was getting a big remodel. I got really active on trying to make sure that the money allocated to the park wasn’t spent poorly, wasn’t wasted on a bad design or on technical bullshit or whatever - landing in the hands of a landscape architect or someone that didn’t know what they were doing. From there we kind of got involved with a little bit of design, just trying to make it right. That was all obviously for the love of it, we weren’t trying to get paid or anything like that.
"Pleasing everybody I think! That’s the hardest part of skatepark design"
After that there was another project that came about, thirty minutes north of Copenhagen, my friend Ebbe was designing with another friend and they asked me to jump on board and have some input. From there we just kind of fell into it, it was never really a plan, just one of those things where you’re looking out for your home park, the park I’ve skated since 1988, and then more projects began to present themselves. My business partner Ebbe we spoke and decided to start the design company, I felt I had good ideas and things I could contribute. At home in Denmark I had a name to build on which helped, if that makes sense.
What’s the hardest part of designing a good skatepark?
Pleasing everybody I think! That’s the hardest part. I think making something that’s aesthetically pleasing, that’s our take on designing skateparks, we want it to look cool. Not just something that skates good, obviously that’s the number one priority, but you want it to look cool as well. Something that can be recognised outside of skateboarding, to us that is really important.
Most of the time we want parks where you don’t have dead ends, you don’t want people stopping too much. We’ve done a couple of parks where we made a conscious choice to have specific entrances and exits to them, so you don’t really have lines going in that direction. I think flow is essential, that’s one of the most important things. So you want it to have good flow, and you want it to look good.
What’s your favorite park that you’ve designed?
I don’t know, I’d say Streetdome is pretty rad. I think the outside of that park is great, it’s really fun and has a lot of different types of terrain that blend into one, that makes it super fun to skate around. It suits every kind of skateboarder, but more the type of skateboarder that can skate everything - like Curren Caples, Grant Taylor, people like that.
We just did one, it’s a bit of a smaller park, it’s in Galten near our second biggest city Aarhus. That one works really good, it’s really fun, it has a street circular kind of thing on the outside and some bowl stuff in the middle.
What would say is a distinguishing characteristic of a Glifberg park design?
I think something that’s good to look at, you know? Skates good and is good to look at. That’s what we like to take pride in, making something that looks rad.
Yeah, aesthetics are definitely important, people forget that
Well it is to us, a lot of skateboarders might not give a shit? They just want to skate and don’t care what it looks like. The feel and the vibe of a place that you skate is super important, as skateboarders we’re really attracted to spots - whether they’re truly urban, a full pipe, a ditch - that look cool. We want to skate stuff that looks cool, and we want to film on stuff that looks cool, it just makes it that much better than your standard park that has a quarter pipe and a flat bar. One where the elements are all there but there’s nothing that makes it interesting. Designing parks where you can go take photos and film stuff and be stoked on it, that’s pretty rad I think. You feel more at home being there, and are more inspired to use the park, it’s not just a training facility, it’s a cool place that you feel inspired skating at.
"I don’t think councils realise what potential a good skatepark has as far as money coming in is concerned"
With the Olympics around the corner, where do you see the future of skatepark design heading?
Well I think that a lot of countries, cities, city councils etc will be investing more money into it. Whether its government funded sports budgets or Team England - whoever the money comes from - hopefully a lot more parks are going to get built. I think if you build parks of a certain look, scale and proportion it’s a good investment for cities to make. It’s not like putting in another football field, baseball diamond, rugby fields where whatever you build is exactly the same.
Skateboarders by their nature are explorers, they want to get out, travel, film, be creative in new surroundings, that actually creates skateboard tourism. Say a city council puts in a million pounds or whatever into a skatepark that looks super rad, they put the city on the map. People will see it through the internet and they will want to go; not just locally either, people will come from all over and that means you’ve got money coming into the city. The local shops, hotels and pubs will be making more money, if its small place in the countryside of England that money could be helping that place to survive. That’s how it is in Denmark anyway.
A lot of these suburban cities, or countryside cities, all the kids as soon as they’re 17/18 they go to the big city as that’s where all the fun is at. If there’s stuff there to keep them excited about their hometown, a good skatepark or whatever else they’re into, that’s what will keep those small local communities alive. Bringing in tourism is a great way for city councils to make money, I don’t think they really realise what potential a good skatepark has as far as money coming in is concerned. It may sound stupid to a lot of people, but I really believe that’s a true theory. You won’t get the investment back over a year, but over 5-10 years it can happen. The city that Streetdome is in, they have a sign on the freeway that says Streetdome, just how they would if it was Stonehenge or something like that.
We have the one Dreamlands park in the U.K., Saffron Walden, if you go there on a weekend there’s always people visiting...
Whatever money that cost the council to put in, they’ve probably made that money back from people traveling from the next town over or from abroad. We’re on a trip right now and we’re going to Livingston! They put in a skatepark 30 years ago and because of that skatepark they still have money coming in. We’re going there spending money, helping the place. It’s definitely a good argument to use if you’re trying to get your local town to build a skatepark.
Which park that you haven’t designed would you love to be able to claim?
The Black Pearl on the Cayman Islands, I’d like to have done that one. The street stuff there is a bit whatever, but how that park is, I don’t know, it’s like a big claymation kind of thing - it’s a mad park. It’s one of the first one that’s a huge scale park with all kinds of different shit in. I haven’t been there for many years, but yeah that park is pretty sick. Orcas Island too would be one. Going back to the point I made before, these are parks in weird places that are extraordinary and people travel there from all over the world to check it out.
"They put in a skatepark 30 years ago and because of that skatepark they still have money coming in"
If you build it, they’ll come…
Exactly, you’ll never get that from football, tennis, cricket pitches and so on. You can have that in your back yard so why would you travel 2 or 3 cities over to go to another one that’s exactly the same?
Are you working on any parks right now?
The big project we’ve got going right now is Amsterdam. We don’t actually even know what the budget is yet, its pretty open right now which is sick, we’ve submitted our design. The City of Amsterdam have said they’re going to find some money for it, it’s going to be like a €2/3 million park.
It will be a big project, it’s got everything, it’s going to have a competition bowl (I hate that word), there will be a bigger flow bowl type of thing, a street course that’s pretty interesting, and then the front of it is going to have a Love Park inspired plaza with flat ground and ledges. It’s a good mix of everything and covers all bases of what a skatepark should have. There will be a few interesting spots in there that we haven’t seen before, I’m all about trying new stuff, it doesn’t always work but at least you learn and figure out if you were on the right track or just dreaming!
The design is basically set in stone, so we’re making sure we get the right builders involved to build the park. Because of the way Amsterdam is, it’s basically wetlands, these 30 ft long concrete pillars need to be put into the ground to create a stable foundation, then there’s a slab on top of that, then they can start building. It’s crazy!
That sounds amazing, everyone loves to go to Amsterdam! Thanks for your time Rune.