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Anthony Bracali, AIA: Creating "landscapes for skateboarding"

 Architect Tony Bracali became an advocate for skateboarding after skateboarders were banned from Philly’s iconic Love Park in 2002. As a champion of active public spaces, Bracali credits skateboarding with the 1980s revival of the park and making it a vibrant urban space. Never mind that Bracali isn’t a skateboarder himself.

“I’m interested in skateboarding and its effect on the public realm and making cities interesting,” says Bracali, who now sees skateboarding as a social culture—not just a sport. “How do we use space? How do we make things around skateparks useable for others?”

After the controversy, Bracali started working with the City as an advocate for skateboarders. Along the way, he met a graphic designer and an attorney who helped him realize the cultural implications of skateboarding.

“I realized that architects should think about this as well,” he says. When the City conceded to dedicate a swath of land near the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a skatepark in 2003, his firm, Anthony Bracali Architecture, was selected as the lead design team.

 Bracali shuns traditional skatepark design, which he describes as, “get two tennis courts and put ramps on them.” Instead, the Schuylkill River Skatepark project, a two-acre stretch that skirts the Schuylkill River recreational trail, will express a design concept he calls “landscapes for skateboarding.” While the project will feature terrain appealing to skateboarders, it’s designed to accommodate many users and activities, offering spaces for museum-goers, skaters and pedestrians to interact.

“Parks were always conceived as a shared environment,” he says. “There’s a seamless integration of the landscape around the project into the project.”

Bracali asserts that architecture should reflect not only great design, but also the cultural and social issues of a given community, and encourage activity and interaction.

“You need buy-in from people to understand the way that people use spaces,” he says. “You don’t serve lots of people if you only talk to one group.”

To achieve this vision, Bracali convened 13 public workshops among several neighborhoods throughout the design process, soliciting input from artists, designers, politicians, skateboarders and neighborhood residents. The resulting design includes multiple entrances and connections to recreation venues throughout, as well as walking paths, ample seating and an elevated platform that serves as both a performance venue and a skateboarding feature.

Construction on the skating landscape is slated for spring 2007, with hopes the park will be open by the end of the summer. But it’s already achieving accolades: Earlier this year it became the first skatepark project to receive an award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) when the AIA’s Pennsylvania Chapter awarded the project a citation of merit.

To Bracali, Schuylkill River Skatepark will be successful if it attracts all ages and activities—from skateboarders and walkers to urbanites—to play, reflect or share a meal.

“We’ll show that it’s possible and we can do this,” says Bracali. “We’re always fighting the next battle.”

Learn more:

Anthony Bracali ARCHitecture: Schuylkill River Skatepark Project

“Thanks, Le Corbusier (... from the skateboarders),” essay by Anthony Bracali

Skaters for Public Skateparks

Great public spaces, a feature of Project for Public Spaces