School of Arts, Design and Architecture

Make your own path

Time Magazine’s Next Generation Leader Janne Saario took his two passions – skateboarding and landscape architecture – to create something new. His groundbreaking and award-winning skate park designs are striking, functional, and inspiring.
Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Janne Saario

For Finnish born skateboarder and architect Janne Saario it was never a question what his passion was, “I first stepped on a skateboard when I was 6 years old. And I never stepped off”, says Saario. But where we might see a library, a bench or a parking lot, Sarrio sees the world differently, “we used everything we could. We would go to abandoned pools, parking lots, and museums.  Once you start skating you see the environment around you as something to experience or interact with.” And, as it turns out, eventually build yourself.

After years of sneaking into parks and establishing his reputation locally, Saario became a professional skateboarder, touring the world many times over.  At the same time skateboarding was having something of a second renaissance, not just as a sport but as a cultural movement. “Skateboarding was, and is, much more of a lifestyle than a typical team sport.  It is a community of misfit athletes working together in a way that is sacred and unique. The process is somehow very personal, creatively competitive. In Finnish, we have this word, sisu.  It’s about self-determination.  Skateboarding really channels that.”

It was during his time touring that Saario saw a lot of urban spaces that were very good for skateboarding, just not specifically designed for it. He saw an opportunity and shortly thereafter Saario got his first assignment to design the main skatepark of Helsinki, Mircopolis. The starting point in the design was to create more of a public plaza than a skatepark; a collage-type garden with shapes suited for skateboarding. The objective was to preserve all the trees in the area. A network of green areas, connected with lawn corridors, run inside the park. “The hares of the Central Park used to feed there at nights”, Saario adds.

This marriage of skateboarding and city spaces eventually brought Saario to Aalto (then HUT) where he pursued a degree in landscape architecture.  "When I started my studies, I was a fan of architecture and architects because they created the environment that I was actively skating. There was really something mystical about it then. My time at University really opened up the wonderful world of architecture to me. Suddenly there was an access to amazing lectures, teacher’s feedback, books and so on. Also, being surrounded by inspirational and motivated students was empowering. I was able to absorb that and then reflect back into my own work.”

After Micropolis, his projects have followed around Finland, in Sweden, even Spain. The parks break boundaries both in design and in choice of materials. A park built in Luleå uses steel waste as a construction material. The end result is edgy, user-friendly, and environmentally sustainable. “I think I bear a responsibility for the users of my parks. Skate parks are about the only public spaces that are designed mainly for teenagers. I want people to feel empowered by these spaces, free to be creative and feel at home.”

Skateboarding is still present in Saario’s life. “Late night sessions are the thing at the moment. When the kids fall asleep it's time to go skate. Many of my friends have the same situation so it's basically a crew of Dads jumping around on boards.” Saario does not, however, try to push his own children to skateboarding. “If they want they can skate, but I want them to find their own path, whatever that is.”

More about Janne’s designs:

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