City as a Playground | No Comply

Reimagine the urban landscape as skateboarders occupy, reclaim and repurpose regimented urban spaces into sites of creativity and play.

By Somerset House

By Bill EppridgeLIFE Photo Collection

Skateboarding first emerged in the USA in the late 1950s as surfers began experimenting with and adapting handmade skateboards.

Skateboard Skateboard (1982-1988) by Variflex Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

By the mid 1970s the introduction of polyurethane wheels, upgraded hardware, and commercial skateparks contributed to its growing popularity in the UK. 

Rom Skate Park (1980) by Iain BordenSomerset House

However, the advent of skateparks with Californian-inspired structures, including waves and swimming pool shapes, was short-lived, with most UK skateparks closing by 1980. 

Helena Long, Trafalgar Square (2020) by Henry KingsfordSomerset House

During the 1980s, street-based riders began to skate in cities, welcoming its cracks and curbs. They reimagined the gritty UK landscape – occupying, reclaiming and repurposing regimented urban spaces into sites of creativity and play. 

Esther Sayers skating in ‘Raemers Park’, Victoria Park (2019) by Rafal 'Rafski' WojnowskiSomerset House

“It was the first magical step into something which would change my world and shape my life for years to come.”  

– Sue Hazel, skateboarder  


Esther Sayers skating in ‘Raemers Park’, Victoria Park

Mike Arnold, Ollie (2014) by Reece LeungSomerset House

Die-hard skaters kept the emerging scene alive, laying down and documenting the roots of British skateboarding history. 

Mike Arnold, Ollie. Photography by Reece Leung

Dick's Bowl (2012) by Rich GilliganSomerset House

Dick’s Bowl

Photography by 
Rich Gilligan

Helena Long on skateable objects designed by Soren Nordal Enevoldsen by Norma IbarraSomerset House

Hackney Bumps (2020) by Jørn TomterSomerset House

Hackneys Bumps

Public and urban planners have had a fractious history with skateboarding, but today skateparks and skateable public spaces have re-emerged as community hubs and are recognised as playing a positive economic and cultural role.

Hackney Bumps was built in 1986 for BMX riders. For the past thirty years the area has become more attractive to recreational drinking and less welcoming for riders and skateboarders.

Skateboarders see their city differently; an exhilarating DIY canvas for joy and exploration, pushing the boundaries of what a shared city can represent. 

Cracks & Curbs (2015) by Mat LloydSomerset House

Crack and Curbs

A poem by Matt Lloyd

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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