School of Architecture Design and Media Technology,
Aalborg University

Dr. Shelley Smith is an architect, designer and associate professor. Canadian by birth – Danish by address – curious by nature. Crazy about the city, its spaces, the interactions between its component parts – both animate and inanimate – and its complex and fragile workings. Smith finds a healthy outlet for this craziness in teaching and researching and discovering at the Department of Urban Design in Aalborg.

Does Seamless Seem Like Less? Parkour and the case for materialising space

In contemporary mobile urbanities there is a fixation with efficient movement – and more than just getting there. We want to get there on time, hopefully saving time and in the best case scenario making time. The focus on an absence of friction, on the desire for seamless movement has resulted in impoverished physical spatial experiences – and in the worst case scenario? A scenario characterised by a total lack of contact with the physical environment and a dematerialisation of space – one could ask? Does seamlessness seem like less?

The shift from the physical locality of our destinations to the temporal aspect of an arrival makes for a kind of ‘non-fat’ form of movement that is concerned with time reduction, rather than on the moving or on the spaces moved through. But should our dealings with the urban be all that smooth and frictionless, or are we missing some of the experiential qualities of space by focussing just on getting through it? Could alternative models of movement give some clues regarding the experience of space in movement?

In the practise of parkour, ‘The art of movement,’ flows through the spaces of urbanity are punctuated by points of tactile contact. The practitioner of parkour, ‘The traceur,’ literally draws experiential routes through the city, moving and touching down in the ‘through.’ Further the act of observing the traceur makes space available to non-practitioners. This paper will examine how the art of movement can be used as a lens through which to view the possibilities for experiencing urban space in movement – space that is mediated by a change of focus and an interruption of flow.