Public Space Design between Alienation and Appropriation: The Case of Parkour

Shelley Smith, Nicolai Steinø

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/conference proceedingArticle in proceedingResearchpeer-review


Urban public space in a Western context has become increasingly functionalized and pre-determined. Designations for use, and by whom, have become more prolific – often in the name of practicality or safety – and have introduced more or less formalised codes of accepted behaviour. This represents a barrier to the appropriation of public space by citizens, in particular when it comes to less conventional and new cultural practices – and this in turn becomes a barrier for both inclusion and for how we define and conceptualise space itself. This is problematic in a notion of public space as the space of exchange and the meeting place of ‘the other’, as discussed by Lofland, Hajer & Reijndorp, Zukin and Lefebvre, among others, and as an essential part of building an inclusive, tolerant and stimulating urbanity. In this regard, architecture and design are not innocent or neutral agents in the process of conceptualising, interpreting and materialising space. On the contrary, design has the capacity to foster uniformity and unambiguity, or to invite plurality and ambivalence. Using the practice of parkour as a vehicle for thought and exemplification, this paper takes its point of departure in alternative urban practices for a discussion of the role of architecture and design in materialising space, between segregation and intolerance on the one hand, and inclusion and curiosity on the other. While the design approach adopted may vary, it ultimately plays a large role in determining the scope of inclusion offered in a particular space and the degree to which space is appropriated as place. In its focus on the material details of urban space for jumping and climbing, as well as the overall structure of space for its trajectory, parkour emphasises the background and the foreground. Architectural urban space design on the contrary, focuses on the middle ground. This paper examines the potential in this seeming conflict and its implications for an urban architectural practice aiming for plurality and ambivalence, rather than uniformity and unambiguity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host : Making Sense Of: Time, Space & the Body
Number of pages13
Place of PublicationOxfordshire, England
PublisherInter-Disciplinary Press
Publication date2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventTime, Space & the Body - Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 20 Sep 201422 Sep 2014
Conference number: 4


ConferenceTime, Space & the Body
LocationMansfield College
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
  • Time, Space & the Body

    Shelley Smith (Speaker)

    20 Sep 201422 Sep 2014

    Activity: Talks and presentationsConference presentations

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