Philosopher Michel Foucault once said, ‘architecture is not an object but a process; not a thing but a flow.’ Little did he know that nearly thirty years later, in the same city that helped launch his career, a group of teenagers would invent a sport that would not only bring his words to life, but it would also inspire an entire movement to re-examine the way we build our cities and view our urban landscape. The artful athleticism of parkour has swiftly taken the world by storm since the Yamakasi formed in Paris back in 1997. Led by its legendary founder David Belle and Sébastian Foucan, the trasceurs (practitioners of parkour) have become increasingly known for their mastery of overcoming physical obstacles in order to efficiently reach one place from another. It is this visually impressive, highly skilled discipline required in the undertaking of parkour and freerunning that has since inspired films ranging from Luc Besson’s Yamakasi – Le samouraïs des temps modernes and Banlieue 13 to the more recent Breaking and Entering by Anthony Minghella. In 2003, Mike Christie presented parkour to the English-speaking world with his Channel 4 documentary Jump London, in which Foucan coined the term ‘freerunning’ to describe the parkour off-shoot geared towards freedom of movement and street acrobatics.
What each of these films has in common apart from featuring high-action parkour stunts is that they all reflect upon urban life and how it’s shaped by the surrounding architecture. Even more interesting, however, is the way traceurs reach destinations made impossible by what ordinary pedestrians see as physical obstacles. And a brilliant demonstration of these views can be seen this summer in Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s highly anticipated upcoming film MY PLAYGROUND. Inspired by his previous documentary CITY SURFERS about the parkour scene in Denmark, Schröder set out to more closely examine the way that traceurs interact with architecture, honing in on movement, tricking and parkour in the urban space through the exceptional skill of Denmark’s Team JiYo. What makes MY PLAYGROUND so unique is that not only does Schröder provide the perspectives of the traceurs themselves, but he also includes interviews with the architects, politicians, planners and philosophers who determine how space is shaped within our cities. Bridging both modern and traditional architecture, Schröder’s choice of locations highlights the potential for traceurs and architects to learn from one another in order to pave the way for revolutionizing the functionality of our living spaces and the dynamics of our surrounding environment.
Shot in Copenhagen, the film features the award-winning VM Houses and neighbouring Mountain Dwellings designed by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group). These buildings reflect the firm’s common interest in parkour and freerunning, ultimately stemming from its reputation as being a member of the new generation of architects combining innovative analysis, experimentation and social awareness in their work. BIG architects go beyond common convention in order to incorporate contemporary life in a manner similar to that of the famed architect Le Corbusier and his Unité d’Habitation. Pioneering functional, urban design in modern architecture, Le Corbusier had dedicated himself to providing better living conditions for residents of crowded cities — even going so far as to exclusively use the proportions of the human body for his scale of architectural proportion. Today, as Le Corbusier had done decades before, BIG seeks to understand the way humans live rather than merely building buildings to fill up space — all the while exploring new ways to create our living, commercial and social spaces. A philosophy summed up nicely by the words of parkour photographer Andy Day as featured in Canon’s 2005 ‘The Shot‘ campaign on-site at the London School of Economics: ‘[The urban landscape] is there for you to run across; it’s not there to contain you.’
Shot, edited and directed by Kaspar Astrup Schröder. Music by The Notwist (‘This Room’, Neon Golden).
Sarah Badr © MMIX