Carhartt WIP unveils their new clip along with a zine, titled "Galeria Continua". Subject and center of the project is an artistic looking skatepark, built in a remote location outside Paris. We talked to the architects behind the park and found out what went into taking this project from the idea to the finished build. Sébastien Martinez-Barat from MBL architects takes us through how many gears had to fit together for this one!
Who is involved in the realisation of the project?
SMB: First of all, I must say that the design of the skatepark is the culmination of a more global project of renovation of an old paper mill that MBL architects (Sébastien Martinez-Barat and Benjamin Lafore) have been leading for nearly 10 years, together with David Apheceix, architect, and Camille Fréchou, landscape architect. For the Skatepark, after the design process, we were joined by Constructo and by Vulcano for the construction phases. The project was made possible thanks to the pugnacity of Soraya Chaar who managed the project, and the - somewhat crazy - trust that Galleria Continua gave us.
In the first paragraph of the Galleria Continua Zine you asked yourself whether this would be a skatepark or an artwork, and the answer seemed clear. Where does the dedication towards building something with a purpose beyond its aesthetics stem from?
Here the project was the focal point of various ambitions and interests. We had already curated the exhibition Landskating, les lieux du skate à travers le monde (“Landskating, skateboarding places across the world”) at Villa Noailles in Hyères (2016). This exhibition presented a thorough research on the encounter between architecture and the skateboarding culture. We understood that skateparks could be seen as an urban planning or landscape design tool.
With David Apheceix, we (MBL architects) have been running the transformation of a former paper factory into an art centre for a few years. Buildings are scattered across a vast industrial site. From the entrance to the first exhibition hall, there used to be a former rail track running through wild vegetation. For this place, we imagined a skatepark that could be both seen as a landscape and urban intervention, a link between the buildings, a backbone line into the landscape. From the entrance of the site, the skatepark is visible by a few shapes that jut out above the vegetation. By its length, it binds buildings in this distended territory.
The other reason the project came to life was the wish of Galleria Continua to welcome a more diverse type of public, especially visitors who would not be interested in contemporary art in the first place. Skateparks are a sort of boulodrôme, typically found in French public spaces: a mix between a sports venue, a gathering place, a spectacle and a designed landscape.
Opening a skatepark there, we were hoping to design such a public space, able to bring together an eclectic mix of population, from international art lovers to local teenagers.
Is this your first project involving skateboarding, does it come from a personal connection with skateboarding or how did the idea and opportunity first emerge?
Our interest in skateboarding is not that of a skater. It is clearly rooted in an aesthetical, theoretical, and historical approach to skateboarding and architecture.
Skateboarding is central to the urban culture of the second part of the 20th century, but also relevant in the history of landscape design and art. We were fascinated by the shapes of the first skateparks, such as Carlsbad. To us, they resembled a concrete sea and were thus challenging the complex shapes, typical of 70s experimental architecture.
During the 1990s came the digitalisation of the architectural process, and it became simpler to work with such geometries. These non-standard shapes were central in the imaginary of the early 2000s experimental architecture. In a sense, we discovered a sort of pre-history of digital architecture with the first skateparks.
The work of Ian Borden has been very important for our research. We discovered his writings while preparing the exhibition Landskating, especially his book Skateboarding, space and the city.
Who is the skatepark meant for, who’s allowed to skate it?
Even if located in the park owned by Galleria Continua, the skatepark is open to the public. The only restriction to its access is the opening times of the Galleria. Since the beginning, it was very clear that the skatepark should be accessible to everybody, especially local skaters.
You had to remind authorities that this really is a skatepark and not too-precious-to-touch artwork. Did you face any push-back or challenges with that?
Even if its shape is a singular one and is part of the design of a wider landscape around the industrial wasteland of the Galleria, it was clear that the skatepark had to be used as such, and function as a public space. What takes place there is more important than how it looks. In that sense, it was clear that it was a skatepark and not a sculpture. On the other hand, the fact that it is surrounded by sculptures and located on the premises of an art gallery adds a touch of ambiguity. While approaching its surface, you can see the black marks left by skateboard wheels on the white concrete, and you clearly understand that this place is used. On the board, skateboarders are performers. Visitors are watching a show.
"Its main characteristics were clear: it should follow the old train tracks and gently avoid the existing trees and bushes. In other words, it should adapt to the surrounding landscape."
Fill us in about the process of construction, how did the park grow into its final shape?
The process of construction was quite experimental. MBL architect together with David Apheceix designed a lot of versions for the skatepark. Its main characteristics were clear: it should follow the old train tracks and gently avoid the existing trees and bushes. In other words, it should adapt to the surrounding landscape. The first sketches consisted in setting up a logic of forms that reacted to the specificities of the terrain and the existing vegetation. The shape is deducted from the interpretation of what was here. Following these rules, the final shape of the skatepark has been designed on-site, evolving over the time of construction.
The physical construction of the skatepark was realized by Vulcano, a team of builder-skateboarders. First, we outlined the skatepark on-site with orange spray paint, together with Lao Chazelas. Metal wires were then bent and welded in order to give height and curves to the future shapes. It all happened in snowy winter times. The rusty curved metal wires formed a sort of drawing on the white landscape. The construction explored the possibilities of wet-sprayed concrete. It was all a rather empirical process. The fresh concrete was sprayed directly onto the metal reinforcement, then pulled and smoothed to the desired shapes before setting. The making of the skatepark is largely empirical, mainly the result of the dexterity of the mason-skaters in charge of giving it shape. The construction site is run as a performance that celebrates the encounter of a project and a site.
How has the reception of the public been?
There are a lot of skaters coming, professionals and amateurs. Local teenagers are gathering at this spot, sometimes with their parents. Depending on the time and day, you might encounter very different types of population.
During the design process, we presented the first sketches to what we have named our “scientific committee”. It was formed by a group of local skaters, skater-architects, parents, children, curators, landscape designers, and representatives from the local authorities. They helped us advocate the project to local users and to the professional world of skateboarding.
Since the beginning, Soraya Chaar, the project manager for the Galleria Continua, was very mindful of the good reception of the project by local citizens, the art scene and professional skaters. She played a central role in the project.
"The circumstances of this project were very unique: a private gallery financed an experimental skatepark open to the public."
Do you expect or anticipate to do more projects like this?
The circumstances of this project were very unique: a private gallery financed an experimental skatepark open to the public. If the skatepark had been built on a public site, the regulation of the construction process and insurance would not have permitted it.
When he discovered the project, one of our friend and client, Yann Stofer, photographer and at-times skateboarder, asked us to add a small skatepark in the renovation of his country house we are currently working on. So yes, we might do another one.
The Skatepark Continua is located an hour drive outside Paris, do you think its realisation could be used as an example for the city of Paris on how to further implement Skateboarding into public spaces in a way that benefits everybody?
Skateboarders are perhaps the best, or let's say the most regular, users of the Place de La République in central Paris. They are truly occupying and using public spaces, whereas passers-by usually just cross that public square from one end to another. In that sense, skateboarding culture is about public space. In our project, as I said already, the skatepark was since the beginning not designed only as a skateboarding facility, but also as a piece of landscape with trees, plants and benches, in order to gather people. A bit like the beach, where some swim and others watch. Skateparks are a place of concentrated activity in public space but are nonetheless only part of it. They are certainly a good solution to reactivate public spaces. But they are the means, and not the end.
The skatepark is located in Boissy-le-Châtel, outside Paris. You can find further information on Galeria Continua here. If you give it a visit make sure you exit through the gift shop, to pick up a piece of Carhartt's line of "Galleria Continua" apparel.