previous stateLocated in the centre of Helsinki, between the districts of Töölö, Hakaniemi and Kallio, the Eläintarha Park houses a major sports complex that includes the Olympic Stadium, the Finnair football stadium, the Ice Palace, the Eläintarhanajot motor-racing circuit and a historic athletics track. At the northern edge of the park, between this track and Nordenskiöldinkatu Street, there is an area of grassy land of argillaceous soil which because of its poor absorption of rain water was previously of limited and scant use.
aim of the interventionIn 2004, the Helsinki City Council decided to add to the facilities offered by the park by using this area for constructing a zone of skateboarding tracks, which they named Micropolis. The intention was to make these installations, which would eventually be the venue of mass events, compatible with the natural character of the existing parkland.
descriptionSet out over the continuous grassy surface covering this land, the intervention consists of a collage of newly-constructed sections made up of pieces of hard surfaces in a range of geometric forms that are ideal both for skateboarding and the pleasures of contemplation. The pieces are arranged in such a way as to respect the trees that were already present in the area, except for two that were removed because of their poor condition. While the pieces stand out in a variety of levels they are never high enough to block the general view of the park and its users.
The main hard surface in the park is a concrete track at the western end. It is of concave section and traces a sinuous route until ending in a large hemispherical bowl. The whole track is set into the ground in such a way that its perimeter is at the same level as the surface. The arris where the concave surface meets level ground is protected by a zinc-coated metallic profile that offers an even better sliding surface for skateboarders. Other hard pieces, for example a truncated pyramid, a concrete crater, a metal box perfumed with the fragrances of different plants, and steps surrounding the trunk of a tree, offer users a range of situations that have been specifically designed for skateboarders while also being for people wishing to watch the skateboarding activity or simply to get together and rest a while.
The spaces between the pieces are paved with red and brown blocks of stone with non-bevelled edges, which lift rapidly after the rain. These paved sections are periodically interrupted to make way for grassy channels that permit small animals to move across the newly-refurbished zone while also posing small challenges to amuse the skateboarders.
assessmentIf urban parks and gardens are usually green islands surrounded by built-up land, Micropolis presents an unusual topological twist in that, here, it is the hard paving that forms an archipelago of islands over a vegetal base. Behind this transposition, there is a bold spirit that has overcome the fear of introducing hard pieces into a natural setting. In their new positions with respect to one another, both the green continent and the hard content acquire new uses and meanings. What might have been understood as sacrilege-by-construction becomes a civilising act in this case that, far from damaging nature, has founded a new facility in a space that was once underused.
This new space is particularly devoted to an activity that is essentially urban but frequently proscribed in public space. Indeed, skateboarding still gives rise to quite a lot of suspicion among certain sectors of the population, which tend to stigmatise it as a form of vandalism that is an assault on the safety of pedestrians and the integrity of urban fixtures. Nonetheless, given that this activity is not viable outside the hard skin of the city, its intensive use of public space has shaped a true subculture that, like any other, also deserves a share of this space. Micropolis is a special zone that gives dignity to skateboarding, offering it to the city as an attractive spectacle while overcoming the conflict it generates in different circumstances. Besides its intensive everyday use, the park is now the venue for such significant events as the Finnish Skateboarding Championship, and these attract a specialist public from other countries.
David Bravo Bordas, architect