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Poetry of Motion – the timber skate bowl

4 Aug 2020

With the deadline of the timber design competition – Conversations about Climate Change – fast approaching, we take a look at judge Adam Brinkworth’s iconic timber project for some inspiration.

‘Skateboarding is a poetry of motion’ said skateboarder Stevie Williams. And in many ways the built environment shapes the motion of that poetry. A skateboarder’s ride is a response to urban space and its design features – from ramps to handrails, walls to benches, curbs to banks – with riders reinterpreting architectural forms as skateable objects. And while skaters often organically re-adapt public spaces to give flight to Ollies, 180s and Kickflips, purpose-built skate bowls create an opportunity for designers to shape the ride of these urban poets.

Unconventionally positioned within the main retail space of the Selfridges menswear department in Central London, Brinkworth designed the world’s first fully enclosed skate bowl for their client Mighty Mighty in 2018. The sculptural, vessel-like installation pays homage to the original travelling skate park structures of the 1970s, and is formed using a continuous 360-degree timber exoskeleton. The underside of the bowl remains exposed – celebrating its engineering and construction – while above a cocoon of framework adds to structural integrity and keeps skaters safely contained.

An exposed ramp construction cradles the bowl and then wraps up and over to create the dual-purpose framework. A ‘hip’ in the bowl’s side accommodates a column, creating a bend that offers skaters an unconventional feature for extra acrobatics. Partially clad in transparent Plexiglas, the frame provides visitors with a protected view whilst at the same time extends the skateable area.

Constructed almost entirely from birch plywood, the bowl is unique in its craftsmanship. A lattice of double layered 18mm plywood provides strength and flexibility, with all sections and joints bespoke and CNC cut. The location of each section was mapped onto a digital model and pieced together like a giant 3D puzzle. The sections are modular and repeating, making the building of the bowl quick and efficient with minimal material wastage. The environmental impact of the structure was key to its design and realisation, with the sustainably sourced birch plywood treated with low-impact waterborne fire-resistant finishes to avoid any additional cladding. Dry construction processes were used for the modular structure which can be easily disassembled and reconfigured, giving it a lifespan beyond its time at Selfridges.

Expert skate park builders Four One Four engineered the bowl in conjunction with Brinkworth and The Mighty Mighty to ensure it would be a fun and challenging new type of ramp design. Its success is reflected in its social appeal – it has gained a reputation as a challenging bowl within the community and attracts top skating pros. It has even birthed new styles of skating as people hang from the cocoon and do tricks off all angles of the structure. Achieving this experience led success was a top priority for the team, and they even prototyped a full-scale section of the bowl to test both its materiality and its skate-ability.

Brinkworth is a design consultancy working across a range of disciplines including architecture, interior and experiential design. The studio was established by Adam Brinkworth in East London as a workshop from which to design and build projects. Since then it has evolved, becoming home to a diverse and vibrant culture, which nurtures a unique approach to collaboration and the formation of fresh ideas. In 2017 Brinkworth opened a second studio in New York City.

Adam Brinkworth is on the judging panel of Conversations about Climate Change. Enter before 24 August here.

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