Skateboarding was the most successful thriving species of Action-determining-Space. The production of Desire. The illicit override of Authorative Structure. It was all there, and not in a "okay-I-see" theoretical way. Millions of kids, all over the free world, were physiologically addicted to developing its principles, instinctually. With a desire as strong, if not stronger, than sex. Tschumi never mentions it, however, and instead dashes off famous non-sequitors like "polevaulting in a cathedral" or "a football player skating through a battle," in order to substantiate Action-determining-Architecture.
He could be forgiven, though, for his distance from the culture. One day, the above-mentioned architecture students were given an assignment to design a "plaza for skateboarding." For their ephedrine-driven designs, they penciled in giant vert-ramps snaking to and fro, bumps here, quarter pipes there, basically lifting the geometry of concrete skateparks and committing it to vellum. The most insightful design would've been— surprise— an everyday, unremarkable marble-and-metal corporate plaza, or maybe a smooth parking lot littered with large, random objects, like newpaper boxes and folding tables. Point being: skateboarding bestows, rather than accepts, meaning. It so completely rewrites the architectural intent of a building, place, or plaza that the architect is, in many ways, wholly overlooked and negated.
So for these architecture students, and for Tschumi even, skateboarding does not really alter design; it alters appreciation. The second half of the dialogue. And architects should feel a close kinship with skateboarders, who are the only other members in the world club of architectural fetishists, connaisseurs of the highest order. It may not be an historical appreciation of periods and styles and masters, but then again, ninety-eight of all architectural form is not historically momentous; a Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe; of a notable period, style, or master. The world is composed of Wawas and sidewalks and interstates and Market Streets and edifices in various states of disrepair.
Skateboarding kneads this greater share of buildings, places, and plazas into True Beauty, in a relatively spontaneous reaction to their form and interrelations. Skateboarders are infinitely sensitive to the slightest texture and arrangement of urban objects, in ways that would baffle the common traveler— a little piece of metal here, a dip in the concrete here, an inconspicuous overhang here, a slight steepness there. On a level just as fastidious as the architect, only more tactile and microscopic.
Skateboarding is an intense and tight dialectic between man and environment. If skateboarding is a sport, it is sport with an engagement of body with the environment, rather than the body with itself, or the body with other bodies. This environment, the "skateboard field," is most often the Modern City. It stands to reason that architects should pay close attention to the skateboard cult, and study its phenomenal successes.
I wrote another quick rhapsodic on Skateboarding, years back, entitled "Animal Chin Unchained, which can be found here: