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While Heidecker thinks the construction quality of Architerra's skateparks is first-rate, the layout and dimensioning of obstacles can be a problem -- particularly at the firm's parks in Castle Rock and Littleton. "They put things in places where you can't hit the obstacles," he says. "Like a pyramid that you can hit from one way but can't from the other because they put a stairway there."
The Emage Skateshop is just two blocks from the Denver Skatepark, so Sean Robinson is very familiar with Architerra's work. "They have the right ideas," he says. "But it's just not the right angles, not the right height on the ledges for how big a bank something is." In 2002 Robinson and his Emage partner, Branden Peak, helped Architerra with the second phase of the park -- a $1.1 million, 10,000 square-foot expansion of the street course that would give Denver the largest public skatepark in the United States.
Robinson and Peak, both street skaters, were so alarmed by Architerra's first draft that they submitted a different design. "We gave them full CAD blueprints with cross-sections, everything you could imagine," says Peak, including a petition signed by over five hundred skaters.
"And Architerra basically ignored it," he adds. "They changed a few things, but not enough to where it works. Now there's so many elements in that new section that don't even get skated because they're unskateable."
Robinson remembers stressing the importance of getting the correct angles of the hips, "and that just didn't happen. There's one pyramid with a flat bar on top of it that's up against a wall with a weird tranny thing going up to it," he says. "That should've been a mellowed-out flat bank. So it's kind of like nobody can skate that thing, you know?"
Skaters also complain that Architerra's parks lack discernible flow. At the recently opened park in Federal Heights, skaters often run into dead ends and approach unusable obstacles. The Architerra-designed Lakewood park, according to a commentator on the Denver Skatepark website, is "a bit like Frankenstein's monster" because so many elements are inexplicably tied together. "This is what you get when you try to please everyone," the poster notes.
Forty-two-year-old Bruce Adams, who's been skateboarding and building ramps for 27 years, says that many older skateboarders attend Architerra's workshops specifically because Architerra, rather than a skater-owned company, got the job. "So what do we got to do? We got to go down there every day and keep our eye on things," says Adams. "Whereas if someone like Grindline got the bid, you wouldn't even have to tell the fuckers what to do. They're going to make it the raddest pool you could skate."
One of the advantages to hiring landscape architects, Pearson insists, is that they're familiar with public-use projects in larger cities, where conflicting needs of the government, the community and the users can often develop into contentious debate. When Arvada first proposed its skatepark in the mid-'90s, for example, residents protested that a skatepark would bring everything from an increase in traffic and noise to crime, drugs and even prostitution. "Dealing with skaters is one thing," Pearson says. "Dealing with angry neighbors who don't want a skatepark anywhere near them is another." And landscape architects "are trained to deal with the public, do public meetings, public facilitation, work with user groups like skaters," he points out, as well as think about drainage, utilities, earthwork, water tables and how the skatepark fits into the context of the site.
Becky Eades, a landscape architect with the City of Westminster, says the older skaters were very specific about what didn't work at Architerra's earlier skateparks. Over the course of the meetings, the most noticeable change in the plans was that the street section for the Westminster park was laid out in a linear, back-and-forth model, as opposed to past Architerra layouts where the ramps all pointed inward toward a single pyramid "centerpiece" -- creating the potential for a demolition-derby flow pattern.
Pearson flips to the final drawing of the Westminster park. There's the redesigned street course, as well as a large clover bowl that's been reworked by the vert dogs so that a skater can ride in a continual flow pattern without having to stop. The plans look good. On paper.
It's a breezy October afternoon at the Elizabeth skatepark. My 22-year-old brother is writhing on the ground in front of the Skateparks International quarter pipe, his board slowly rolling away as he makes a long, groaning noise like air being let out of a balloon.
Since we're the only ones at the park, I think about yelling "Are you okay?" But I know he hates that. So instead I just watch, leaning against a safety railing where some kid has written "Fuck you" in white-out. For my brother, a shop-sponsored skateboarder, this four-foot-high quarter pipe is a shoebox compared to some of the ramps he's done backside-smith grinds across. But the particular pitch and the disjointed bump between concrete and metal throws even the best skaters slightly off balance -- hence my brother's slam. Eventually he gets up and starts riding around again, a sour look on his face.