In 2013 I was asked to sit on the design board representing the Parkour community in the re-development of the space beneath Hungerford Bridge on Southbank, London. The brief: to re-develop this area into a multi-purpose space for skaters, street artists, BMX riders, Parkour practitioners and the general public, a welcoming space for all.
I was fortunate enough to sit on the board with lead Architect Søren Enevoldsen (SNE Architects), Mark Rushworth and Georgia Ward ( Southbank Centre), Rich Holland (Floda 31), Prof Iain Borden (UCL), Pete King (Professional Skater), Tom Oswald (Street Art Expert), Ricky Adam (BMX Expert), David Watson (Rick Mather Architects) and Rachel Auger (Arup).
"I have known James Sutton from Parkour Generations as part of the specialist team looking at the Southbank Centre's (SBC) Hungerford Bridge site for parkour, skateboarding, bmx and street arts - and for which I acted as the one of the lead consultants for the SBC. Situated in central London on a highly visible public site, this £1 million project has been extraordinarily demanding in terms of design, public consultation and local politics. As the designated expert
for parkour, James drew on all his knowledge and skills to provide outstanding information and guidance on all aspects of parkour. Ranging from attention to detail and highly specific direction to the design side of the project, through to a careful consideration of the social and political aspects of the development, James’ input has been highly instrumental and valuable. I would recommend him extremely highly to anyone undertaking work in this area."
Prof Iain Borden, Bartlett School of Architecture
To aid chosen Architect Soren with the process I put together a detailed presentation of how his design could be adapted to enhance it's parkour possibilities (seen below). It highlights ideal measurements of rails, platforms, finger grips/recesses and distances between elements. These measurements were provided to offer both beginner and experienced practitioners a place to train together with room for all to develop.
As Soren holds a great understanding of Parkour it was easy to explain how some elements could be slightly adapted to allow for precisions, for strides, cat leaps and climbing/bouldering. I also designed small features that would appear almost invisible to the general public whilst offering great climbing grips to those with experience.
The project was born when plans for the development of the Royal Festival Hall meant the removal of the Undercroft Skate space, a well-known and treasured Skate space beneath the RFH. Once the Southbank Centre (or SBC) realised what had to be destroyed in order to rebuild they put together a team to create an alternative space for relocation.
I was introduced into this project when attending an open weekend / conference (image shown below) where the details of the proposal were discussed. Many skaters attended the weekend and shared their opposing views with passion. It was a fascinating debate for which I tried to remain impartial.
There were some convincing arguments from both sides and the more I heard the more sympathy for the skaters I had. As a Parkour practitioner myself, I know only too well what it's like to have a treasured training spot taken away for city planning, spots where I have witnessed the greats of my art train and coach. Whilst feeling for their loss the fact remained that they were being offered
something the Parkour community have never been offered before, a replacement training area 100m away, not only that but one worth £1 million. Even though I raised many questions during this debate, I had to remain impartial as my position was clear. I was there to support/represent parkour and with no relocation came no purpose built space for Parkour on Southbank.
So where is the project now?
Since the motion had passed to green light the project, Boris Johnson has stepped forward protesting the removal of the Undercroft. At this time it seems unlikely that the new space will be built however nothing is certain, watch this space.
For more on the project please see the following links: