Skatepark design contains different sub-stages. Each stage concludes with the creation of a document representing that stage. The professional skatepark designer manages each of these stages and produces the necessary documents that finalize them. Once the designer is hired, the design process takes about two or three months.
The first stage is “concept design.” This depicts the skatepark space in terms of its appearance. This is a flexible document that is subject to change. A concept design would be used when a specific location isn’t known, or if there are likely to be changes to the size or scope of the project.
The second stage is “final design” and represents the skatepark in its fully approved appearance. The final design is used to create construction documents (CDs).
The final stage is “construction documents.” These are the blueprints for construction and the instructions for creating each element. The CDs, as they’re known, describe everything from the type of rebar to the smoothness of the concrete.
A skatepark advocacy group may feel that they need a design to present to the community as a visual representation of what they hope to create. This assumption leads many groups to believe that they need to hire a designer before they can really start fundraising. This is simply not true. It is appropriate to find examples of park designs, or even photos of existing parks, to illustrate the “type” of park that the group would like to see in the area. It’s not necessary to have a custom, original design before the designer is hired.
1. Concept Design (aka Schematic Design)
Fundraising opportunities often require a skatepark design so that people understand what they are being asked to fund. Also, donors want to see that the project they’re funding is underway and inevitable, and not just a vague desire by a few passionate people.
The concept design, or schematic design, is a preliminary design depicting the skatepark idea. It shows what the park looks like. This schematic is used to show non-skaters what you are talking about when you say “skatepark.” Concept designs are digital illustrations produced by the skatepark designer and shared with the community. The advocacy group uses them in their community-outreach materials. In other words, it’s a rough drawing of your new skatepark.
If your project hasn’t enlisted a skatepark designer to produce your concept design yet, you can look for one online and simply use it until you are ready to hire a designer. You should use an illustration that resembles the size and character of the park you imagine for your community and make it clear that it is just an example. At any point you can replace this “place-holder” design with one that better demonstrates the kind of park you’re aiming for.
People unfamiliar with how projects like this work will often interpret the schematic design as the “final” design. They don’t understand that the design is still loose and subject to many changes. This is one of the drawbacks of schematic designs. All of your concept designs should be indicated as “work in progress” or “preliminary design.” Because blueprints and construction documents haven’t yet been created, and the designs are easy to change, this is the most appropriate stage to make large changes, (like adding, moving, or eliminating structures within the skatepark).
Concept designs can come from a professional skatepark designer. Some skatepark designers will provide their concept design services for free in hopes of winning the lucrative construction contract later. Any designs from a professional skatepark designer before the designer has been hired should be used with caution. These drawings are often used to establish a relationship and show support for the grassroots project. These concept drawings are only marketing pieces. They do not show your community’s skatepark and have no bearing on the actual skatepark design until after the designer has conducted a local design workshop.
2. Final Design
The professional skatepark designer will work directly with local skaters to identify their needs and desires. This is accomplished through a series of design workshops. The first workshop will usually be a casual conversation. The designer will meet directly with local skaters to talk about the kinds of places they skate now, and what kinds of things they’re interested in skating in their new skatepark. The designer will also meet with the people responsible for managing the project to talk about any special considerations, and together they will walk the site to get a first-hand look.
The first design workshop will usually be held in a public meeting room at a community center, recreation center, parks building, city hall, or some place like that. Most people are likely to see the meeting announcement on Facebook. Design workshops are public meetings and sometimes can have dozens of people attending, some of whom haven’t been involved at all in the skatepark project.
A few weeks after the initial design workshop, another meeting will be scheduled with the designer to present a few concepts. If the design budget is very small, it may be just one illustration, but if it’s a large, well-funded project, several different concepts might be presented. The core group will be invited to these meetings, as well as the larger skateboarding community. Again, attendance at this meeting should be high and promoted heavily on Facebook (and other places).
At this second meeting the skateboarders will again provide feedback that the designer will incorporate into the design. Most of the “big stuff” will be settled and the discussion will be about specific things; e.g., should the bank be a quarterpipe instead? The designer will try to meet everyone’s needs while staying within the anticipated construction budget. Sometimes additional meetings and presentations are scheduled but usually there are only one or two design workshops.
The designer will supply the community with a “final design” that can be used on promotional materials. Although the design is final, the designer still needs to create all of the specifications for that design to allow a builder to know exactly what’s going on with the design. Those specifications will be delivered in a few weeks directly to the city. The core group and skateboarding community usually never see the construction documents, specifications, or blueprints… they only see the final schematic (or concept) rendering.
3. Construction Documents (aka CDs)
The designer then takes that approved design and creates construction documents (CDs). These are basically blueprints that a construction company can use to build the skatepark. The CDs specify all of the curves, heights, and distances between elements in very specific terms. However, the CDs also specify qualities of the skatepark that are invisible (and largely irrelevant) to the average skater. For example, the construction documents tell the builder how thick the concrete is, what kind of rebar to use, how far the coping sticks out, how the soil around and under the terrain is prepared, where rainwater goes, and so on. These instructions are based on professional calculations and state and federal building guidelines, as well as surveys and tests conducted by the designer and/or the city at the proposed skatepark site.
The construction documents are used to present the project to construction companies that may be interested in building the skatepark. The CDs are important because they allow the builder to understand exactly what they are expected to build so that they can make an accurate cost estimate to build the project.
Changes to the design at this point are impractical and costly. The construction documents cannot be used if the site changes, the budget changes significantly, or some new constraint emerges (such as the desire to keep a particular tree in the middle of the proposed skatepark site).
After the CDs are delivered to the community, the designer’s work is done. In some cases, the designer will be hired to stay on the project and oversee construction to ensure that it is being built exactly as intended. Although this adds to the budget, it’s a very useful service to include, particularly if the company winning the construction bid does not have a lot of experience with skateparks.
In review, it’s important to hire a skatepark designer that has experience and a positive reputation among the skaters in the communities where their work has been built. Given that there are only a few dozen experienced skatepark designers in the world, it is worth the time to research everyone that you can find until you can create a short list of designers that you think would be appropriate for your project.
In the next section we’ll look at the process for hiring a qualified skatepark builder.