Eduard-Wallnöfer-Platz in Innsbruck – usually referred to as Landhausplatz – is quite a complex space. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how to begin writing about it. It’s a skateboard paradise, but it wasn’t specifically designed to be skated. It sits directly opposite the regional government building, but no one gets kicked. What’s the deal with this place? There are so many different layers to it, historically, physically and socially. The skateboard situation there is in a bit of a grey area, and I’m not just being clever by referencing the 9000 square meters of concrete that it’s made of.
I’ll start things off with a bit of background info. If you didn’t know, Landhausplatz is a fairly politically charged space. Despite initial appearances to the contrary, LHP is primarily a place of memorial and remembrance to those who resisted against, and lost their lives under the rule of National Socialism. The giant monument might look a bit facist, but it actually represents the liberation from facism. The French military government initiated the building of it after the Second World War. Unfortunately the space wasn’t really living up to its purpose in the years that followed, and despite being the largest public square in Innsbruck, it was also the most neglected. It was a key Innsbruck skate spot in the 80’s and early 90’s, but skating was banned there some time around 91-92.
Enter LAAC Architekten & Stiefel Kramer Architecture. In 2008, they won a pitch to redevelop the area and shake things up a bit, and building was completed in 2011. I spoke with LAAC about their intentions for the design, and why it’s so damn skateable. It turns out they weren’t all secretly trying to build us a skatepark. Their vision was much broader. They of course knew that a wide range of ‘urban’ activity would take place there, but the space was not designed specifically for any one function. The geometry of the banks is good, but not optimised for skating – not that we need something to be perfect to have a good time skating it – Their main goal was to create an active and open contemporary public space, while simultaneously re-strengthening the significance of the monuments as witnesses to a very difficult period of 20th century history.
In terms of form, they aimed to create a “landscape like counterpart to the surroundings”, and in changing the topography they hoped to create new access-ways through the space, allowing people to actively change their own physical relation to the monuments, and thereby their own perception and understanding of them. Instead of distance and stillness, they wanted to create proximity and movement. The transition that’s spread throughout the plaza also has a practical function. There was a need to create seating, construct a place to store soil for the trees, and make stairwell entrances for the underground carpark that didn’t look like boring shitty stairwell entrances. Flowing transition just happened to be the form that their vision took on. Lucky us!
"It is a subversive act, while at the same time it is an artistic act of discovery and interpretation"
Listening to Kathrin Aste from LAAC discussing architecture was pretty enlightening for me. LHP is just as much a conceptual space as it is a physical one. They see architecture as a space for opportunity, possibility and discovery, and Landhausplatz is an absolutely prime example of this. They created a varied landscape where something can constantly happen, and they say that “what citizens and users discover there, is up to them”. Skateboarding is an almost perfect vessel to engage with such a place, and their reaction was positive when I asked what they thought about skating. They felt that the entire area is symbolic to the act of resistance, and in its own way, skateboarding too “is an act of resistance. It is a subversive act, while at the same time it is an artistic act of discovery and interpretation”. Kathrin was also proud of the fact that LHP is an internationally known spot within the skate community, although she wasn’t so stoked on how noisy bluntslides and powerslides are. They sound pretty good to us, but I suppose this is an understandable perspective from someone who doesn’t skate.
Ok, let’s rewind a bit. When the all-new LHP reopened in 2011 it was immediately swarmed by skaters, and there were rumours of a skate-ban within the first few weeks. A ‘Free Landhausplatz’ petition was started, and representatives of the local skate scene were invited to a meeting with the regional government. An outright ban was never even discussed, they were down with people skating, they just wanted to find some middle ground. i.e don’t skate the manny pad directly outside the entrance to their building during office hours, and don’t do disrespectful grinds on the monument stairs. Even though this ‘peace’ was somewhat unofficial, the fact that these guys had reached out and tried to find a solution is pretty cool, and not something that should be overlooked. Situations such as these aren’t unheard of, but they’re rare things. The Vans team were in Innsbruck shooting for Propeller soon after the meeting happened, and when told about the agreement they were both respectful of it, and also impressed by it.
Not everyone paid attention to it though, and it didn’t take too long for things to start slipping. So everyone keeps skating whatever they want… and nothing happens. A few years go by, another meeting comes and goes, and still nothing really happens. Those suits can definitely see us misbehaving from their office windows, they directly overlook the plaza. Why aren’t they doing anything?
Here’s where it gets a little complex. As far as I’ve been able to make out, there isn’t one single governing body that is solely responsible for the space. LHP is located in the city of Innsbruck, the space itself is the property of Land Tirol, but the monument itself is apparently – in some strange legal form – French territory! It’s like a circle of responsibility, no wonder nothing gets enforced. I have a delightful image in my mind of bureaucrats folding citizen’s complaints into paper airplanes and throwing them endlessly in-between their offices. It probably doesn’t work exactly like that, but I think you get what I’m trying to say.
"If they tried to close the space in some way there would be a total shit storm"
So why – besides bureaucratic confusion – is skateboarding so openly tolerated here? Well, like I said earlier, the rule makers never wanted an outright ban. They’re definitely very much aware of how much of a positive impact a place like Landhausplatz has on a city. The place is always full of life and energy. There are so many people of all ages skating there every day, and there’s also a really strong female scene here. To be honest, I’m not sure how they could stop people skating there even if they wanted to. The law isn’t famous for being particularly flexible, so how do you define the line between people ‘skating’ and young kids ‘playing’ on skateboards? When I asked Kathrin about the possibility of such a situation she told me “If they tried to close the space in some way there would be a total shit storm”. This made me laugh. She’s a rad lady.
So. Like I said at the start of this piece, the skateboard situation in Landhausplatz is a bit of a grey area. Although things work in our favour for now and a ban would seem very unlikely, who knows what the future will bring? This space is so unique, and is definitely not something to be taken for granted. For the most part, people don’t skate the main entrance to the government building during the day, but I don’t know what to suggest about the monument stairs though. They’re made of a very fun and grindable type of veined marble, and in my humble opinion their looks have only been improved by slappies. I’m a skateboarder though, so perhaps I don’t have the most neutral perspective to make comments like that.
So what can we as skaters do to ensure that we can continue to enjoy this wonderful place? To once again quote Kathrin Aste: “Skateboarding in Landhausplatz is a fine line between resistance and respect”. Basically put – have fun, but don’t be a dick. There is so much skateable terrain on offer, so next time a tourist is sitting and eating their lunch on something that you want to skate, just go and skate something else. Regular pedestrians are probably not aware that you’re trying to film a line either, and screaming at your board in the proximity of children really isn’t the best way to raise people’s opinion of skateboarding. Landhausplatz might look like a skatepark, but it isn’t, and we’re not the only ones who use it. Just keep your eyes open, treat the place with the same respect you would your own home, and you’ll be rewarded with endless stoke. Whether you’re a visitor or a local, a session will always be going on that you can jump in on. The more you skate the place the more you find here, and the more fun it gets.