The best way to support the podcast is through Patreon. You can make a difference for as little as the price of a cup of coffee once a month. Every dollar helps us get into the brains of the people that you want to hear from.
When you support Movers Mindset through Patreon you also get access to exclusive content including videos, back story, behind the scenes, and a deeper look into our Movers Mindset.
Craig: Welcome to the Movers Mindset podcast, where I interview movement enthusiasts to find out who they are, what they do and why they do it. In this interview, Colin McDonald discusses his experience designing Parkour Parks and what he’s learned from the process. He shares thoughts on his creative process and inspirations before explaining more about landscape architecture and the program he is in.
Craig: Colin unpacks some of his personal design and build dreams along with the realities that affect them and explores the connection between sculpture and parkour design.
Craig: First, a personal request from me to you. If you enjoy the podcast or frankly, anything else our team is doing, please share with others. I know that’s the biggest compliment you can give to say to someone else, I think you will like this. I’ve said it before and I’m going to keep saying it. Thanks for listening.
Craig: Hello, I’m Craig Constantine.
Colin: Good morning.
Craig: Colin McDonald is a parkour athlete and coach but is best known for his work designing public play spaces. As Parkour Visions design director, Colin has worked on numerous projects including gyms, parkour parks sculpture and has had the opportunity to present his ideas to various organizations within Seattle.
Craig: Colin was recently accepted into the University of Washington’s highly competitive landscape architecture graduate program. Welcome, Colin.
Colin: Thanks for having me on the show.
Craig: My pleasure. I’m interested in your experience of the play spaces after you’ve built them and people start to use them. I’m wondering, I have the suspicion, do you go there? Not the day after, but do you visit them like six months later to see maybe how the community has grown into it and how the thing has settled into their consciousness? What your experiences are of seeing people use your spaces?
Colin: Yeah. I think there are two pretty different answers to that based on the two large public parks that are completed and have existed for a bit that I was involved in the design of.
Colin: The first one I was involved in that Parkour Visions did was Rose Park in Boise, Idaho. That was second parkour park in the US. I took this big lesson away from it, which I’ll see if I can get to. Just to describe the park a little bit, the site is under a freeway overpass. Specifically, it’s under two freeway overpasses, because it’s where the off ramp splits.
Colin: You have a covered site, a blank space and then another covered site. The blank space is basically a privately owned driveway. The city was unable to get that land. It had two chunks of park with an area in the middle that it couldn’t develop into anything other than just a thoroughfare.
Colin: During that process, the landscape architecture firm that hired Parkour Visions to consult on that park that’s called GGLO, by the way, they’re a Seattle firm. In talking with them, we had this idea that we wanted those two sides of the park to feel distinct in the way that out in found parkour off and you will go to a spot, you will jam for a little bit, you’ll pick up your bags, and you’ll move. Sometimes, not that far. In the two sites maybe there are 75 feet of interim space in between.
Craig: That has [inaudible 00:03:34] between or something?
Colin: Yeah, exactly. We wanted them to feel distinct. We wanted it to feel like you can go and jam at one spot, pick up your stuff and go to the other spot and it’s like a new place that had its own identity.
Colin: What we ended up doing is the larger of the two spots, we put playground safety service. Under the structures are a mix of wood and concrete, a lot of bars. It’s visually pretty messy. There’s a lot going on there, a lot of angles was going on. Then, on the other side, it’s a concrete paver floor. The idea was, okay, this is going to be more like a plaza, a public area that won’t read quite as much like parkour park. People will be more likely to use it for just sitting on or having lunch, exactly, walking through it. Not necessarily experiencing it as a space specifically for parkour.
Colin: I think, I was there right when it opened. I was there a couple months later for the “grand opening”. Then, I’ve been back a few times since then, mostly in the off season, unfortunately, when it’s cold. What I think is that we were too successful at making the second concrete space not feel like a parkour park. To go into that little bit more, the site originally, part of the reason that the city wanted to develop it was because it had become a place where people were camping, sometimes doing drugs, just hanging out storing their stuff.
Colin: They felt like they needed some sort of way to activate that space of the community to displace undesirable activity essentially. What I’ve seen every time I’ve gone back to the site is that on the first area that reads as a playground even though it’s specifically not a playground, it’s parkour park. It’s empty of people living there. It’s clear, people can use it. They’ll come in. They’ll exercise on it. On the other area that reads more like a plaza there are tarps and tents [crosstalk 00:05:58]. Yup, very quickly.
Colin: My guess is that if someone is looking for place to camp, they’re going to be less likely to camp on a playground and more likely to camp in a plaza.
Craig: Was the larger side that is more movement play space, was that also being camped in? Both of the spaces were being used equally? I’m just wondering, it’s interesting if you actually displaced the undesired activity from one, I don’t know where it went. That way you say, it’s successful over here but it wasn’t successful.
Colin: It’s a little hard to say. I think, part of it is that the side that has more camping on it right now is they’re all off ramps from the freeway, but there’s a passageway where people in cars will come and stop and so there’s panhandling on that corner.
Colin: I think there are some other aspects to what that might be a little bit more interesting or appealing to people than the other side. That’s just something that has really stood out to me every time I’ve gone there. It’s like okay, this place doesn’t feel like a place that I would want to hang out and train with my friends.
Craig: You won’t show up with your lunch? Do you think that if you had … I’m not saying that this is your fault, do you think that if you had, and how would you know it is. Do they reveal any of that? Do they say like this is what’s going on the space now, we’d want to …
Craig: Do you think if you had, I’m wondering how much time you spent there beforehand trying to get a read of what they were using it for. Were you actually thinking, “Okay, I needed to design to displace activity?”
Colin: Yeah. We walked the site. That was part of the brief that GGLO got. They were also involved in another site on the other end of the giant freeway overpass there. Right in the middle of these two places is a huge parkour park or not. I’m sorry, a huge skate part. There’s a really world-class skate park that has the best X Games a few years ago. That takes up the bulk of Rhodes Park.
Colin: Then, the parkour thing is on one end of cap and this sculpture is on other end of cap. The sculpture specifically like the ground plane under the sculpture is jagged rocks for the specific reason that you can’t sleep on jagged rocks. No, I mean that was clear that that was part of the reason for developing the site with an active use was to try to bring in a community that would occupy the space.
Colin: The other thing that I’ll say about it that I think, I think if we had ended up painting … Originally, we had specified that the concrete shapes would be painted different colors. They ended up not doing anything, ran out of money or things get cut.
Colin: It’s all concrete.
Craig: There’s no vibrancy to it? There’s …
Colin: There’s no vibrancy to it. There’s tons of colors. There’s these amazing murals that we were not involved with that are painted on the bridge behind the …
Craig: I think I saw those. I looked at pictures of the project.
Colin: Yeah. It’s very striking.
Craig: It was like this is clearly a play space, an activated play space.
Colin: Yeah. That was my experience of Rose Park Garden. I hope that answer of how that space changed after putting it in and how people are using it. Then, the other park is Penzer Park, which is the timber place in Langley.
Craig: People listening need to look these up. They’re really visually, striking visually very different.
Colin: Yeah. It’s a very different design, different visual language, and just a very different site where the Boise Park reads extremely urban, it’s under a bridge, all concrete. There are plantings around but there’s not that much you can do [crosstalk 00:09:55]. Yeah.
Colin: Penzer Park, it’s a multisport park. It’s in a residential neighborhood in Langley, which is a suburb of Vancouver, BC. Within Penzer, they have a bike skills park, the mountain bike park that was existing. They built a skate park slash pump track, not a traditional plaza skate park but more of a sinuous truck that you can ride with different wheeled vehicles. They have a nature playground and then they have a multisport court, I guess, a place where you can play soccer, basketball in the same area. Then, they have the parkour park.
Colin: There’s a lot drawing people to the site. It doesn’t surprise me, but what I noticed on Penzer is the amount of kids, especially young kids, who use the parkour park. It’s something that I’ve heard parkour athletes complain about. In regards to that, [crosstalk 00:11:05] Penzer would be cool if there weren’t 300 kids on it all the time.
Craig: They’re obstacles, get over them. Conceptually get over them, not literally get over them.
Colin: Victim of its own popularity a little bit. That’s anywhere, right?
Craig: You’ve been back to that one of course.
Craig: I’m wondering, when you go back and you see 300 kids climbing on, and I’m guessing that’s energizing, but also like, it didn’t quite land the way I thought it was going to land.
Colin: I did not design it for kid use in mind, but I knew that that would be how a lot of people would experience it.
Colin: No, I think overall, I’m happy that it’s getting used. I think, it’s important to acknowledge as we build spaces for parkour that the parkour community is small. The amount of people who will train at a space and specifically say, “I’m a parkour athlete and I’m going to find this parkour park and do parkour,” is pretty small part of the population. It’s significant but we are a niche sport.
Colin: If you’re building a public park, you have to think like, who else is this going to serve? I think that a well-designed parkour park compared to something like a well-designed skate park has the potential to serve a lot of populations.
Craig: That’s a good point. Right.
Colin: Who kind of just happen upon it and will use it for fitness or will experience it as aesthetically interesting space and wander through it, be entertained by it.
Craig: Do ever go back to spaces and I’m wondering like how deeply you recycle the thoughts and the ideas from the park. You go back to Penzer and look at the wear patterns to see what people are using the space. I’m assuming you visualize the space entirely. Then, do you actually go back and see are they using the lines and the ideas that I think I built in?
Colin: Yeah, that’s especially true. Penzer is big. It’s a 10,000 square foot park. There’s a lot of stuff going on. I had about three weeks to design it. It’s a very, very tight turnaround.
Craig: A couple hundred lines is the lingo of what you think of, right?
Colin: Yeah. I had it broken apart into different sections with different themes. Everything touches everything else. I don’t really believe in, like, here’s the precision area and then here’s the vault area. I think that everything should integrate. I can go back and, yeah, look at wear the patterns. Or just see how people are using it and say like, “This was a successful idea and this was not a successful idea.”
Colin: I don’t want to dwell on this too much, because I can’t point to, if you had a visual companion guy that can say, this kind of sucks. There’s a section to the, oh i don’t even know, or until I say, it’s a corner of the park that just didn’t really work the way I had envisioned. It occasionally see some use but it’s not as exciting as other parts.
Colin: Specifically, if you’ve been to the site there are 12 by 12 inch of cedar timbers, square timbers, and there are also 8 by 8. Most of the park is 8 by 8. There’s a 12 by 12 section. I think that section of the park is the most successful just like as one element, it’s like wow, that really worked, worked for all kinds of people. A lot of people are climbing on it. It really integrates and flows well.
Craig: Four inches, makes a difference apparently. Something about the appearance of this is a walkable plank as oppose to a one foot wide path you can walk just normally. Eight inches, you have to be in line.
Colin: Yeah. I think the experience of touching the material is different when you can’t get your hand all the way around it. That’s a platform at some level like you said, you can walk on it.
Colin: I think, the visible mass of something like that is appealing. I think, a lot of parkour people, definitely myself included, have developed kind of a love for material, we go around and touch stuff.
Craig: Texture. Yeah. There’s a massively tactile element.
Colin: It really worked to have these big timbers that you can see how they have split. You can see the movement of the wood. We have kind of shaped them and rounded the edges. It’s nice to interact with those in the way that there are definite disadvantages to wood compared to something like concrete, but there’s just this innate loveliness to it.
Craig: Yeah. It calls to us, like inherently people are … wood is more interesting. It’s generally going to be warmer. It’s going to react to temperature changes more quickly. The sun fall on it, it warms up faster, the lower the thermal mass.
Colin: It’s also of the environment, like all of the cedar. It’s all yellow cedar. All of the yellow cedar came from Vancouver Island.
Craig: Local Island.
Colin: Local …
Craig: That yellow cedar is particularly striking. I was wondering about them. When I look in the photos, I’m like, “That isn’t stain,” but I understand because I’ve seen on Vancouver Island there’s a construction. I have a friend blah, blah. There’s a construction style that’s traditional to the people who live there originally and they take the whole tree. They have a way of … The person who’s house was that explained it, but like [inaudible 00:16:52] my head.
Craig: Somehow, they have to fell the tree, and then there’s a time process. It can’t be too long after they strip the bark off the tree. Then, they somehow seal them. It’s these golden yellow tree trunks that they then erect in the middle of the building naked and exposed. That holds the upper rafters. It has that same color. I’m like, “Looks like there were stain but now I’m like oh, duh, Craig, it’s that tree.”
Colin: It’s interesting. The other thing about wood is that it changes over time. That beautiful yellow color outside will not last.
Colin: That’s part of it is that you can see as something ages, it ages to gray. The UV is what does it. Eventually, you end up with this site, which has its own beauty, it’s this wood beach at that point.
Craig: Yeah. Is it anywhere near the water or is it?
Colin: No. No. I wouldn’t describe it as coastal. It’s just near the water. It’s Pacific Northwest like everything is near the water, but no it’s not.
Craig: I’m curious as to what your process is in the sense of if you’re thinking of a potential project is it do you sit and think and like ruminate over different … you’re like going through the metal scrapbook of all the ways that you can find something efficient in this space. Or, are you a pencil sketcher or do you like just CAD the crap out of it? Or, do you go out and physically train and move [inaudible 00:18:15] that he used to think in order to create movements and then he later realize that he works better if he moves and it creates thoughts.
Craig: I’m just wondering like what’s your creative process looks like literally.
Colin: Yeah. It’s constantly changing and hopefully getting better. I just a week ago started a master’s landscape architecture program at University of Washington. I’m already getting ideas from that. Then, I think that my process also has changed in talking to Caitlin Pontrella, who’s the current EDE of Parkour Visions who is a Chinese architect.
Colin: When I did, Rhodes, the Boise Park, which I want to emphasize, I did not do that alone, Tyson worked on that park with me and GGLO they did the details ultimately it was their project. We were on as consultants. That was probably my most limited scope for any park. In the end, I did draw the bars. I said this is where this goes. This is where walls go. When I did that project, I was just going to go on a little bit of attention, but I think it will get back.
Colin: Tyson and I had this idea. Before we had ever built the parkour park that parkour was so great that if you build a parkour park anywhere it would be awesome, just like any site. Because we haven’t done one, seem impossible to get someone to allow us to do it. Yeah, under a bridge like in an alley way. Who cares? We’ll just build it. It’ll be great.
Colin: Designing Rhodes, I didn’t give a shit about the plantings or the site and how it looked really. I was just like give me as many square feet as you can possibly give me to put bars and stuff in, because that’s the value. I’m just going to pack the space with parkour junk.
Colin: My thinking has evolved since then. I had a conversation with … Are you familiar with Street Movement?
Colin: Mikkel Rugaard?
Craig: Intimately with the guys and the gear in Denmark …
Colin: He has the gear. Yeah. I had an interesting conversation with Mikkel, the spring when I was in Copenhagen. He was talking about the tension in a parkour park between density and navigability. That was fascinating to me and that moved my thinking a little bit.
Colin: Density is incredibly important for parkour design. I think variety density or just variety density material are just like the key elements of what makes a parkour space interesting and fun. You can go way too far on both of those really easily.
Colin: Again, I wish I could point to examples. You can look at parkour parks from around the world and you can see where they have turned the dial too far on density or too far on variety and come up with a space that’s visually jumbled or that doesn’t pull you into it.
Craig: Now, you’re talking about creating an artistic installation, which is probably a good thing.
Colin: I think that we, as parkour people, we underestimate how important it is for us to train in a space that’s beautiful and that works in a traditionally, architecturally, artistically good sense. You can probably think of examples of this in your own life. Think of a spot that is very simple and that is a place that you enjoy training because maybe it’s under a nice tree or it’s by the water or has grass around it.
Colin: I just have an image of my head of this little rail box around the access panel. It’s two foot high rail, 8 feet by 4 feet in a box simple. It’s a simplest spot you can imagine. It’s by the water at the university there’s moss and grass around it. I would happily train there instead of like way more technically interesting spot that was right by a freeway with cars driving by.
Craig: The risk of putting ideas in your head, there’s two cases you’re talking about. Is it density that sort of maybe clutters your thinking? If you’re in a space that’s less dense then your minds calms down?
Colin: Yeah. I mean …
Craig: That’s the park [crosstalk 00:23:01].
Colin: You sort of respond to what’s there and what’s not there. If you think of, again, this is another Street Movement design. Streemekka in Copenhagen is a famous spot. If you picture it, it has a concrete shape that looks like a ruined building almost on a red safety surface circle that’s under a tree. The three walls in the front, what I would consider the front of that, are very simple and just dimensioned beautifully.
Colin: The space between them, the height of the wall, the thickness of the wall. Those are very simple elements. You can go on in Instagram and see how inspiring those three walls have been to so many people. That’s an example of a very restrained parkour spot that is successful because of how restrained it is.
Colin: To loop back, I think, now, when I started design, it’s much more important for me to say like, “What is this overall space trying to communicate? What do I want someone’s experience of the space to be as they see it, as they pass by it, and don’t interact with it? Or, as they interact with it either through parkour or through general play?” Coming up with that concept and then a visual concept of what do I want that space to look like? What do I want the impression to be?
Colin: Then, once you have that, it’s not hard to build cool connections between obstacles. That’s the easy part.
Craig: The engineering challenges are really minimal. It’s just people, it’s not heavy wear, heavy duty.
Colin: You have a sense, or I have a sense now, of how far different people jump and how I can create a gradient of challenge throughout the park, so that you can see the same type of movement that’s small and close to the ground. Then, a little bit further, a little bit higher up, a little bit higher up, a little bit further. Those challenges, I think, now are easier than answering like how do I make a sculpture.
Colin: Essentially, you’re talking about sculpture at that point, that fits with the site and does a specific thing, accomplishes a specific concept. That comes with sketching and it come from …
Craig: You sketch them physically.
Craig: Ultimately, they’re probably CAD drawn, because you got to hand them to a builder, right?
Colin: Yes, eventually it goes … I use SketchUp Pro, which can export to AutoCAD. Yeah. We’re not going to the technical details necessarily of like what the eventual deliverable is, because that changes my project. Yeah, I’ll draw.
Craig: Have you ever gotten pushback from, like somewhere down the road there’s a dude with a hard hat pouring concrete going, “What the hell is this thing?” Have you ever gotten feedback from those guys about … if they don’t pushback, that you design it, we build it. I’m wondering if you ever had a chance to talk to anybody who’s physically constructed one of your sites? What their experience of the site may have been.
Craig: A lot of those people who work in construction projects are really good at visualizing things, like look at a plan and visualize the house. I’m wondering if you ever had a chance talk to any of them because they’re very unlikely that they’d be parkour people.
Craig: If they’ve ever had an interesting experience seeing it completed.
Colin: Yeah. I mean, the people who are designing, who built … Sorry, who constructed Penzer Park is Marathon Surfaces, they’re a Canadian firm. I also work with them on the latest park I opened, which is in Northern British Columbia in Fort St. John.
Colin: In both of those cases, I was available. I wasn’t on site throughout the build process, but I was talking to the contractors to answer questions.
Craig: Shoot you a photo. What the hell?
Colin: What’s going on here? This is supposed like he left off a measurement between these two things and then I pull a model up and check that measurement. Yeah, I mean, I think I have a memory of talking to the lead foreman or the lead builder on Penzer and him sort of saying like, “Man, I really didn’t understand what this was going to be or like why things were laid out the way they were when I was looking at this initially. Like okay, I guess, we’ll drill the holes where he says to drill the holes onto these things.”
Colin: Then, he’s like, “Yeah and halfway through it. It’s like oh, I get it.” He’s not a parkour guy, but he’s a youngish dude who like to climb around. He could he could pick up on it at that point. He’s like, “Okay, I see where he’s going with this.” That was cool. Cool conversation to have.
Craig: Are there any materials that you either have had the chance to train on in life? Like I found this one spot and I really love it. That you haven’t had a chance to build with yet?
Colin: Yeah. I still want to work a lot more with metal than I have.
Craig: I saw Clippy. Clippy is pretty recent?
Colin: Yeah. Clippy was 2016. There is a forthcoming park. I’m excited about it because it’s the closest one graphically to me that’s being built in Bellingham Washington right now that includes some Clippy-esque elements. For those of who are not intimately familiar with my portfolio, Clippy is made out of five-and-a-half-inch diameter steel pipe that’s miter cuts, it’s cut at an angle and then welded together.
Colin: That creates, if you imagine the pipes screensaver from Windows 95. That was the visual inspiration particularly.
Craig: Yeah. Also, people are like what? Wait? All this stuff will be in the show notes. You can go and click on it and go see the photos that are on your website in the portfolio.
Colin: That’s something that I was excited for a lot more. That’s round pipe. I’m excited to do elements like that with square pipe, one thing that I would like to try at some point, because I love wood so much is to yet get see channel. Imagine a square tube with one of the faces removed, and then bolt in decking like thin deck strips of wood, so that the surface that you would interact with would be wood but everything else is this incredibly structurally strong C channel metal thing that you could weld and bolt. So I’ve drawn out some concepts for that and I’m waiting for a project that will be suited …
Craig: Fit into the [crosstalk 00:30:20]. You would like an interesting visual elementary project.
Colin: Yeah, that and then, I’m interested in, again, on the metal. I am interested in messing around with like Rhino liner or truck liner as a …
Craig: Spray-on resin. This make surfaces … Well, whatever they want. Squishy or sticky or grippy or …
Colin: Yeah, very grippy, very durable and some crazy, crazy durable stuff. And yeah, because we always have slick rail, which I think is cool because you can slide on it and fall on it but I’m interested to see what it would feel like, especially in an environment like this where it’s so wet all the time. If I can Rhino liner a bunch of thick bar or a bunch of square bar, whether that would just be the ultimate all weather parkour space.
Craig: Line the parkour park.
Colin: Line the parkour park, yeah. I don’t know. There’s always more to do with wood. There’s more to do with … I just did a design for a park in North Vancouver that uses more timbers because I like timbers and they like timbers and they like opening another park with timbers. But this one uses some timber joinery, which is just like how you put together a barn, the skeleton of a barn doing half lap joints. I’m interested in doing a really small piece like that. That’s almost a standalone sculpture around the size of clippie but having all of the … Make it out an 8 x 8 or 10 x 10 and have all of the joint …
Craig: Joinery done, right.
Colin: … visible. Exposed timber joinery I think would be really cool.
Craig: If you ever had a chance to see in person how some of the ancient Japanese construction is done where they put together entire buildings with no nails. It’s all this complex, they’re like tavern puzzle joints so they put like one peg in it and it’s like all things basically … Have you seen that stuff?
Colin: I have not seen it in person. I’ve only seen images and videos of it. I would like to-
Craig: Because it sounds like you’re finding that type of aesthetic a little inspiring and it’s a pretty cool way to put things together.
Colin: I think it’s very cool business. There’s a sculpture in Seattle that I find really inspiring and it’s untitled and I can’t remember the name of the artist, of course it is, but it’s near Volunteer Park and it’s metal, welded sheet metal, but it’s this 16, 17-foot high monolith put together with mortise and tenon joints but it’s all made of metal. Picture that.
Craig: No, you’re just messing with us here.
Colin: No, it’s crazy like I love it so much because it’s the most primal … Primal is a little exaggerated. It’s a very classic wood joinery, woodworking technique put in this crazy huge scale and in a material that makes absolutely no sense, but it works. He made these shapes and he stuck them together on site and it holds up, and every side of it is a building challenge because of the joinery like produces these holes.
Craig: Holes. What’s your favorite surface to climb on? Like if you’re out doing either climbing challenge or capping challenge or trying to do climb-ups and things where you’re forced to interact with both your hands and your feet?
Colin: My favorite wallet I’ve ever climbed on is the velodrome spot in Berlin, which is the whitewall spot. If you watch [Mince 00:33:55] videos, it’s pretty recognizable. Berlin doesn’t have a lot of crazy good spots but yeah, that one’s awesome. And the cool thing of those walls is that they’re decently grippy on the feet, but the tops of them are slanted by about 2 degrees along the length of the wall so if you get into a cap and you have your hands resting on top of the wall, your fingertips will be lower than your first knuckles.
Craig: Just a tiny over grab.
Colin: Just a tiny … It’s not enough to feel it when you jump on it but man, your climbers will just feel god-like.
Craig: Probably because you can generate pull friction [crosstalk 00:34:40]. Boom!
Colin: Yeah, that’s an amazing wall. I like that.
Craig: Tell me a little bit more about landscape architecture and I think most people would think of landscaping as like plants but I’m betting that it’s a lot more than just the greenery and the biology of it. But can you just unpack a little bit about how that program, the types of topics it covers, and how you’re thinking that would inform … I mean it’s pretty obvious, but how you’re thinking that would inform your work in the future?
Colin: Yeah, so landscape architecture is like a pretty new field in the … compared to something like architecture, which has been formalized on …
Craig: A couple of weeks, right.
Colin: Yeah, on a geologic timescale and I think the … take this with a huge grain of salt because I’m a week into the program and like just starting to read the theory and I feel like if you asked me this in a year. my answer is going to be different, but landscape architecture is about making places for people to live and to spend time and that’s what architecture is about too. But the scale that landscape architecture works on is much more telescopic.
Colin: It’s everything from one tree and the way that tree is shaped and placed, all the way to the urban ecology of an entire urban park or neighborhood or even like a wetland ecosystem. They don’t just work in urban context although, obviously, that’s my particular interest. So yeah, I mean, just in a functional sense like practicing landscape architect as a professional degree and then you work for a while. Then you can take an exam and be licensed. To be a licensed landscape architect, legally call yourself a landscape architect.
Colin: And there are pure landscape architecture firms. There are also what’s becoming pretty common now are hybrid or multidisciplinary firms that will include architects, landscape architects, civil engineers, urban planners.
Craig: Really build an entirely integrated site.
Colin: Yeah, and so that allows them. That allows firms to go after larger projects and say, “We’re not only going to do the building. We’re going to do everything around it and we’re going to deliver all these different things.” So yeah, I mean it’s a hugely varied field. People do everything from work for the National Park Service on how is Yosemite going to grow and change over the next 50 years to designing a pocket park that’s 50 square meters something and is pretty situated in time and place.
Colin: So that’s one thing that landscape architects do I think is interesting is think along, think about processes and think about timelines. If you are envisioning a park that involves trees, the way that park feels, the fundamental experience of that park is going to change dramatically from when those trees are put in as small saplings or juveniles to when they are mature trees. Like that’s going to be a completely different space and it’s crazy to think that you could do something. You could put in a project that won’t really be …
Colin: … done ever but won’t really live up to your ultimate imagination for 50 years. And the father of landscape architecture’s Frederick Olmsted who did Central Park along with a bunch of other things and he was an architect and he was dissatisfied with being called architect in chief of Central Park. I’m not building a thing.
Craig: Not building a building.
Colin: You’re not building a building, yeah. You’re building a system that’s going to change and that’s why … I think one of the reasons why people like Central Park so much and point to it, refer to it is that it’s so old at this point that you can see how design intent from …
Craig: Far ahead he was thinking, right?
Colin: Yeah, the 1800s has now matured and changed. Gone way past what he could have imagined.
Craig: Yeah. Just in case anyone hasn’t been to Central Park in New York City, there are lots of spots where the trees that are … In several places, street-level, there’s a big wide sidewalk and then there’s like a huge, it’s probably granite, really like heavy, dense stone, like a railing. It’s more like a [inaudible 00:39:28]. Like the top of it is like a foot wide and then there’s a drop on the other side and there are trees that are in the park. When you look over the railing, there’s terrain and things and those trees grow up out of the park and shade the entire sidewalk in parts of the street. And I’m wondering like, “I wonder if those were there.” But I’m suspecting that he put all those trees in there and they just came up and like the park reaches into the city literally over the thing.
Craig: I’m a good fan of trees. I don’t climb trees as much as I probably should, but I’m often spotted standing around, looking straight up with my little iPhone trying to capture the wisdom of trees.
Colin: Also, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, another old park and I had the experience a couple of years ago walking through there with a couple friends who are from the Bay Area. This was before I was studying landscaping architecture really thinking about it too much and I just assumed that this is what the land was always like here. They just put some trails in and plop some buildings down, some handrailings and they’re like, “Here is a park.”
Colin: No, it looked nothing, nothing like that. The trees that are there are new. It was sand, beachy area. That park is intention but it’s so far removed from the act of creation that it has and the intention was so good and now it just appears-
Craig: [crosstalk 00:40:52] could have been here.
Colin: That’s amazing space. How did they find it? I’m so lucky that it’s right here in this place where they want it to be a park. Like now way.
Craig: They found it with a pencil and paper. Somebody having an idea.
Colin: It’s incredible the irrigation project and I don’t want to talk too much about this because I don’t have all the facts on it, but they pulled a bunch of water. Like they had windmills, I think, that were irrigating the land that became Golden Gate Park over 50 years or something. Like it was this massive terraforming project and that stuff is so exciting. Even if it doesn’t have anything to do with parkour directly, I just love it.
Craig: Well, it seems to me … I mean I’m not … I had a roommate in college who was an architect student, so I got a little bit of like the architecture thing by osmosis, but there’s something about the idea. There’s a thought I’ve had two seconds ago. So something about the idea of so human beings are ephemeral, right? It’s short. Here, you’re gone. And the idea of being able to alter the landscape and almost to approach doing something on geological time scale is almost God-like. To be able to say like, “Well, if we can literally move mountains and then we could literally put them back. We’re going to move this aside. We’re going to take this metal [inaudible 00:42:05] and put them out in the back, put the trees back and look just like it was before we started.” That’s like a Promethean or …
Craig: I’m just wondering, so I have two questions. That one which would lead to if they gave you unlimited funding and told you could have any piece of land anywhere and build what you want, where and what would you build which is a bonkers question? Another one which I’m having because I’m like a space science fiction geek is like have you ever thought about trying to build a parkour park where the gravity coefficient was different? Aside from like the … what’s his name of … the part of the Martian Chronicles’ character’s name. Anyway, aside from having this giant, 50-foot running precision, can slow motion happen? What would will be the things you want to do in a place where you can particular both the physics of the environment and the …
Colin: I think it would be really fun to use … like running jumps would be cool. I think a lot of swinging would be cool. I’m imagining like a very three-dimensional, a very vertical environment that used a lot of flexible bars, like a rubber-constructed bar so that you could redirect yourself and if you whacked into one, it wouldn’t …
Craig: Be fatal …
Colin: … break your face, so I’d be into that. I guess the real swinging space.
Craig: Did you just make that up on the spot or was this [crosstalk 00:43:26]? No, I’m just wondering. What I’m partly fishing for is how you think and the kinds of thing [inaudible 00:43:34].
Colin: Yeah, no. That’s straight of the top. But ideal site, I don’t know.
Craig: Well, that’s hard. [crosstalk 00:43:43]
Colin: My ideal site is anywhere in Seattle. Come on, my guys.
Craig: [inaudible 00:43:50]
Colin: Yeah, before we build the park, we’re like, “Okay. Well, first thing we’re going to do is we’ll just volunteer over time. We’ll get a parkour park done in Seattle. A little park, that will be pretty easy because we’re here and then we’ll go build parks in other places. It turns out that’s the hardest thing in the world.
Craig: What are the hurdles? Is it … I mean obviously the politics but is the issue zoning or is the issue they don’t understand what the space is for or?
Colin: It’s a big city. The bigger the city, the harder it is to get anything done on a reasonable timescale. My guess is that, unbeknownst to me, there’s like … Parkour park is like percolating and bubbling up somewhere in the Seattle City Parks Department. In five years, it will pop and then they’ll build a parkour park.
Craig: Yes, it will be somebody whose kid takes parkour and then the adult knows what it is so it has to be a tipping point.
Colin: I think the other thing that, crossing my fingers, will help is once the Bellingham Park is up then there will be Washington State precedent for a signed specific parkour park. Hopefully, that will be enough to say, “Oh yeah, we can do that.” It is new so like when you build a skate park, when you build a playground, when you build a piece of exercise equipment, there is a corresponding ASTM standard. It’s just like, I don’t know, the American Society of Technical Measurements. I’m getting that acronym wrong.
Colin: It’s a standards body. They publish standards and it’s very helpful for purposes of due diligence for a city to be able to say we have built this thing and we built to it ASTM standard.
Craig: RFP is this standard, this in this space.
Colin: In order to create a standard, you have to precedent. You can’t just create one out of whole cloth. You have to say, “Well, these guys did this. These guys did this.” You can see the chicken and the egg problem coming right now. There is no ASTM standard for parkour-
Craig: You got like five chickens now.
Colin: The chickens are growing. There are standards internationally. It’s an interesting thing. UK has standards. There’s EU standards allegedly. I haven’t seen them but I hear they exist, and that does a little bit. Like we can say, “Well, these exist but they don’t really care.” All we can end up doing is saying well, when I’m approaching a city who’s interested in parkour park and it doesn’t happen where I go out and say, “Can I build a parkour park here anywhere?” They’d come to me but I still often have to sell it at that point if they’re interested in the idea, but I have to get there.
Colin: So one thing that’s really important is making it very clear what area is a parkour park and what area is not for liability reasons. If you, for example, had a playground that was a real-life playground.
Craig: Yeah, standard 5 to-12-year-old children, right.
Colin: Standard 5 to 12-year-old playground and then you had on the same piece of safety surface like a parkour structure, that would not be okay because someone can vary reasonably say, “Well, I brought my kid to this playground that existed in these standards that are designed for safety and then they wandered over to the parkour side which is still different …”
Craig: Climbed up [crosstalk 00:47:19] railing, right, yeah.
Colin: Yeah, just like you wouldn’t put a skate park bowl right next to the playground.
Craig: In the middle of the … I might but okay.
Colin: I might too like, “Uh, the …” I’m tolerant of a much higher degree of risk and …
Craig: Mixture, different mixture.
Colin: … and mixture and user groups clashing and figuring their differences out and training on each other’s stuff, I like that idea. But this, we live in …
Craig: We live in America.
Colin: We live in America.
Craig: [crosstalk 00:47:50] society by nature.
Colin: Define your space and then sign your space so put up a sign that says this is not a playground, this is a parkour park and that’s a lot of what the … Skateparks do have an ASTM standard and one of the big things about standard is a sign. People have to know that …
Craig: Yeah, you’re going to be hit in the head with a skateboard if you stand in this park.
Colin: Yeah, and also defines space. So those are sort of the two big things and then it’s project-dependent and it’s interesting getting from clients what elements of playground concepts they want to take like, “Okay, we’re going to use a safety surface of some kind.” And another big thing in playgrounds is how much of a border you have between a structure and the edge of the safety surface.
Colin: One of the elements of the playground standard that really gets in the way of building a parkour playground is the areas of separation that falls in between pieces of equipment. You have to have six feet and they can’t overlap, so that’s 12 feet between these two structures. That’s too far. Yeah, there are people who can do 12-foot running trees, but that’s well, 5%, 6% of the parkour community and 0% of the average people walking by. You’ve just made it a series of disjointed …
Craig: Well, then it doesn’t read as a movement invitation.
Colin: That sort of thing, number one, is like we don’t build playgrounds. Sorry, we won’t build you a playground. It has to be called … If you’re going to have it be existing thing, it has to called a parkour park. I think what … Going back to what do you want to do that you haven’t done yet, I’m very interested in multiuse spaces, multiuse public spaces, which is also a thing that we [inaudible 00:49:47] and I thought back in the day would be really easy. Like, “Oh we won’t …” Building a parkour park, that will be a hard sell but we can get people to say, “Here, we’ll just put some railings in like this and then parkour people can use them and fitness people can use them and they’ll still function as railings.” That’s a great idea, right? Save some money, get a multiuse space. Now, that scares the shit out of people.
Craig: Yeah. People are going to intentionally, “What?”
Colin: Yeah. No, don’t tell me that we want … that you want people to jump over this thing, because then, we’re complicit. That’s something that I want to push. I don’t think it’s impossible. I think the needle is moving pretty quickly on adult play, adult fitness.
Craig: Becoming normalized, right?
Colin: Normalized and just the idea that public space that is designed for multiple modes of movement is a better space. That’s something that I I think is very unexplored, intentionally building a found parkour spot that’s not a parkour park. That’s a bit of a grail for me to get to work on. We’ve gotten close on a couple projects though that kind of dissipated. It’s coming. I think it’s coming.
Craig: I could probably just sit here and talk about parkour structures all day because I have the parkour bug. I’m wondering, we’re going to a direction, if you … I love to collect stories. I got this thing for stories. I’m wondering if you think of a person or a few people that you admire, is parkour architect a thing, did I just make a new word, a parkour architect, architect or regular landscape architecture just random people that inspire you in general? Is there a story that you would want to share about someone that you admire.
Colin: One that I admire. I already talked about Mikkel. I think that Mikkel Rugaard in Street Movement as company and as a design firm, specifically, have been very inspiring to me. There is not a lot of precedent, instrumental in creating the idea of what a parkour park is what it can look like and experimenting with those early forms. Yeah, definitely shout out to that.
Colin: I also really like the designs of TraceSpace which is the design arm of ParkourONE in Germany. I believe Min has designed some of those. I don’t know if they have one lead designer specifically. The stuff that they put together, they mix materials a lot which I’m interested in.
Craig: Yeah. I’ve seen a couple of what I would call pocket parks but they’re a little bit bigger than your average teeny pocket park and they have like, the one I saw was brick structures with also, I think, round timbers integrated into it.
Colin: Yup. That’s usually what I see from TraceSpace signature is red brick, or yellow brick, some brick and then some round timbers and they use a lot of stainless steel bars which are pretty inexpensive. Yeah. I’m intrigued by their designs. Then, there’s many like it’s hard to tell often where parkour parks have come from because they’re so new and because there’s not like … There hasn’t been anything close to like industry consolidation outside of the UK or everything is made by free move and see how all these parkour parks look the same.
Craig: Good and bad, right? It has pluses and minuses.
Colin: They’ve built 30 parkour parks or something …
Craig: Recognizable, so easy to get municipalities to buy-in but also can become, I’m not saying they are, but can become a little repetitive.
Colin: Yeah. Because there’s a little of that there are always examples that I’ll see of parkour parks that don’t look like anything else that I’ve seen because it’s just like some guy was in the right place and the city was like, “All right, we need a parkour park. Hey, parkour guy, work with this architecture firm to put together this thing.” You don’t have to be an architect.
Craig: Something like eight feet high with a bar on it.
Colin: You can just go in. Then, if the city has bought in and if they architecture firm has bought in, somebody will draw it for you. You can sit there and say, “Move that bar. Move this bar.” People come up with these crazy things. I think that’s really exciting. That’s where you can get cool ideas from people who, I think, you also end up with some spaces that sometimes don’t quite work. That’s part of it.
Colin: I think parkour is a very forgiving sport in terms of saying that a space doesn’t work. It’s hard.
Craig: You might need to try a little harder [crosstalk 00:54:39].
Colin: It’s hard to have a parkour park that doesn’t work. You can’t move around in there. I’m even thinking of Lappset is the parkour playground equipment. To the best of my knowledge, it conforms to European playground standards. I would consider it to be at least they’re … I hear they’re coming out with more stuff that I haven’t seen yet.
Colin: At least, the stuff that I’ve seen around, I would consider it to be a parkour themed playground as opposed to a parkour park. I don’t love all of the decisions they’ve made, but if you think of it in the context of like, I’m walking around the city and I see a playground. If that playground was that [crosstalk 00:55:25] so stoked.
Craig: Yeah. Other than every other playground on the planet that I see which is like 5 to 12 and as a 40 something guy, I can’t go nowhere near that place.
Colin: Yeah, if you think of it in the context of custom parkour park, it’s a little lacking or it’s a little wiggly, they wiggle. That bugs me. It bugs me when you put together a parkour park and the bar is shaking.
Craig: It’s not a bomber, right?
Colin: Yeah. It’s still like, oh man, it’s so cool.
Craig: Let’s say, I think, this would be obvious. Let’s say you have the parkour part slash architecture slash building bug, do you remember when you caught the bug?
Colin: Yeah. I mean, I had started to think about building. I started to think about what I would want in a parkour park in 2011. Maybe you’re going to get this wrong. I think, the first parkour park was, I believe, geopark in Sweden. I’m throwing out facts that I’m not super sure on, around 2009 I want to say. Parkour parks, as a concept, only about 10 years old is just nuts.
Colin: I was like, “That’s a thing? People would build those? What would I want?” It’s interesting because I was looking through an old notebook and I saw where I had written out a little bit about this idea. What I started with was what we were just talking about of like a public park that just so happens to have features that would make it really appealing for parkour people, but that anyone else walking through it wouldn’t ever know. I never did anything with that, but I had written it out.
Colin: It’s interesting to look back at that now and be like, “Oh no, that’s a little closer to where I was going to come back to after exploring just like very utilitarian parkour spaces,” very specific spaces.
Craig: You mentioned that you were looking at an old journal, do you journal regularly today? Do you use it for like the self-reflective type of journaling or do you use stretching or do you have both?
Colin: I have a sketchbook. At various times, I’ve done kind of daily thoughts. It just sort of depends on what’s going on. I don’t know. I should probably be doing it now because things are changing and I’m starting school.
Colin: I like being able to go back and read and see a record of my brain at a previous time. I think that’s very valuable and it’s impossible to do without writing. I don’t do it religiously. I get bored of it or I lose it or it goes away. I have been having sketching pretty regularly. I have a sketchbook. It’s just my personal sketchbook, I don’t put school stuff in it. I keep that filled. One of them started this like a year and a half ago, I guess. Yeah, I keep a sketchbook now.
Craig: I’m interested in some of your inspirations from orthogonal places, like paint like if you think about other forms of art like painting and sculpture and traditional architecture, even things like algorithms or if you go to museum for plants. Have you ever found any of those other completely different mediums as like something that really struck you where you’re like I was looking at a, now, I’m reaching here, but like I was looking at a painting and the painting made me think of I had this idea or this emotion. Then, that landed on the sketchbook.
Craig: I’m just wondering where you draw inspiration from. If you do, from outside the parkour and movement spaces.
Colin: I mean sculpture is specifically large form public sculpture is best place to look for inspiration on parkour structures, I think, without question. There’s a sculpture in Amsterdam called [foreign language 00:59:30] or something like that, a great landscape that looks like … it looks like a crashed plane almost. It’s on top of this mound. It’s all made of welded corten steel formed into these organic blobs that are cascading around each other.
Colin: I remember, this was when I was in Amsterdam in March. I was walking around the lake park. I looked across the lake and I could see the mound and something on it. I couldn’t see it very clearly, but I knew that I had to get closer to that. I walked all the way around the lake and it took me 45 minutes. Then, that was the sculpture that was up there. It’s so cool because you slide on it. The surfaces are pretty smooth and they’re all rounded.
Craig: Undulating, right?
Colin: Yeah. You can just run up and roll across one and you come out of the roll and you’re sliding on your butt down. I love that sculpture. That’s super inspiring. I haven’t put that into plan just yet.
Craig: That’s stuck.
Colin: That’s stuck, yeah. Yeah. Look at outdoor sculpture. There’s also in Berlin. I wish I had the name of this sculpture too. This is in Downtown Berlin. There’s a semicircle, if you’ve played the game Halo, think of a halo cut in half dropped on its side, or no, standing up on the ground, so it’s this arc that is super high on one side, I’m talking like 100 feet.
Craig: Right. The points are up.
Colin: Yeah. Then, like 40 feet high on the other side and it’s maybe 8 feet wide, maybe 6 feet wide and smooth steel. You can run as hard as you can like you’re doing a warped wall all the way. Not all the way up, but you can go pretty high until you can’t run anymore and then just slamming.
Craig: Pancake yourself.
Colin: Yes. Slap yourself unto the surface and slide all the way back down. It’s why I love it. It’s like holy crap. I love things like that. That’s not a parkour sculpture but it’s a movement sculpture. It’s made to be touched. It’s made to be climbed on. Because of its materiality and because of the way it’s made, you can slide which is like …
Craig: Yeah. The scale is right that you can slide.
Colin: Yeah. It’s these ways of moving that I think are … We have all these different tool sets for movement as parkour athletes that I think go way beyond what most people … the way most people move by these different vaults and complex swings. I think, when I’m thinking about like how I would build a movement space that’s for everybody, I’m thinking, “Okay. People like to slide. People like to swing. People like to jump but not too far and people like to balance. To be able to put those things together, I think, those are pretty fundamental and pretty accessible.” The other thing I would add is people like to traverse.
Craig: Yeah. When they go from one to the other, right?
Colin: Yeah, like not a vertical climb. People do it but scary. It’s hard to put into an urban context well. Being able to go hand over hand across something, like that, people get that very quickly. They get the balance if it’s low enough, if it’s easy enough like a log. They get jumping steppingstones. Then, the sliding like, yeah, there are so many things that you …
Craig: It’s the closest thing to flying that you can is …
Colin: Yeah, it accelerates you. That’s cool. Thinking about how can we put those movements in our public spaces and not just stick them in there, but actually push people towards them and design the space so they are intrigued to try those movements in an implicitly given permission to try those movements, because that’s hard and we’re taught to not climb on the sculptures generally.
Colin: In Berlin, their own sculpture but it’s not Berlin. Like how do you make your sculpture so that people will feel okay climbing on it? They’ll enjoy it once they’re on their, but how do you pull them into it and say, “This is finally complete.” Yeah. Those are questions.
Craig: There are so many things I can ask. I’m wondering, I’ve been on The Book Bender recently, in the podcast, I’ve been on The Book Bender for a long time. I’m just wondering if there are any books that people are thinking like, okay, this has kind of been a mind altering conversation for me and I’m in this new space. Are there any books that you would think would be good gateway drugs?
Craig: I’m not thinking so much for the, I want to become a landscape architect, because that’s really more straightforward to ask. I’m just taking books that you have found maybe inspirational. Or books that you think align with the way you think that people could dig into.
Colin: Not really.
Craig: Then, your next project is to write a book.
Colin: Yeah. Sorry. I wish I had a better answer for that. I think, again, ask me again in the year after I’ve been forced to read some of these books that will be helpful to me. I haven’t drawn a ton of design inspiration from books.
Craig: Reading material?
Craig: Actually, we haven’t talked at all about your own personal movement journey. Maybe that isn’t super interesting compared to what we’re doing.
Colin: Yeah. Briefly, I was talking to Justin Sweeney, who’s my longtime friend and now roommate about just last night and how I’ve sort of … I’ve set up shop on my plateau.
Craig: You don’t mind if I steal that phrase from you?
Colin: Yeah. This is my plateau and I put out my …
Craig: Yeah, I have a doormat and I built a building and a little parkour space over here.
Colin: It’s just like I do not feel the need to push my movement practice in the way that I once did. I don’t think I’m necessarily capable of it. I’m 30 but that feels … I feel very comfortable in where I am as a mover. I think that there’s always progression and there are always things that I’m like I’m not going to hit this today, but I’m going to come back and do it.
Colin: It’s all sort of mindset and just some days you feel springy. Some days you don’t. I can tell now, like this is not a day when I’m going to do any big jumps. Some days, I’m like, yup, it’s time to go. Yeah. I started doing parkour in 2007, so it’s been 12 years. It’s not as interesting as the design stuff. It’s compelling to me like there’s a reason I’m still here. I’m still doing it. I’ll say that I enjoy parkour, my own personal practice of parkour much more now that I am no longer working in a parkour gym and that’s a common story [crosstalk 01:07:37] all day, then, that’s work.
Colin: The context of it becomes a work context. Whereas now, I go out and if I want to jump I jump and it’s just for me. Or, maybe for Instagram.
Craig: Nothing wrong with sharing.
Colin: Yeah, I know.
Craig: That’s fine. All right. I don’t know if you’ve listened to any episodes but there’s a question I always ask at the end, which is the three words to describe your practice.
Colin: Practice in every broad sense, huh?
Craig: That’s the first thing.
Colin: Material. Yeah. Since, when I hear practice, I’m like, how I built or how I design, which is …
Craig: That’s part of the power of the question is what does practice mean to you …
Colin: Yeah. We’re moving right back around. I think this is where we started. I want to put this in a correct order, which I’m not sure.
Craig: You’re also welcome to talk about it.
Colin: It’s variety, density and material. I’m not sure if it’s material, density and variety. How that order is. I think it’s material first. I think it’s material, variety, density, yeah three words that describe my practice, material, variety, density.
Craig: Thank you very much Colin. It’s been a pleasure.
Colin: Thank you.
Craig: This was episode 69. For more information, go to moversmindset.com/69. There’s more to the Movers Mindset project than just this podcast. Visit our website for more free content to join our email list or to read about how you can support this project. I’ll leave you with a final thought from George Washington. “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain when I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” Thanks for listening.
The best way to support the podcast is through Patreon. You can make a difference for as little as the price of a cup of coffee once a month. Every dollar helps us get into the brains of the people that you want to hear from.
When you support Movers Mindset through Patreon you also get access to exclusive content including videos, back story, behind the scenes, and a deeper look into our Movers Mindset.