At Simparch's Free Basin, skateboarders and art appreciators are enjoying the ride
Cindy Coleman -- Interior Design, 5/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
It's a quintessentially American story. A swimming pool—that embodiment of the good life—is built and enjoyed, then eventually abandoned due to lack of interest or income. Empty and neglected, the symbol of bourgeois leisure is transformed into a haven for alternate culture. The skate rats take over.
Investigating the paradoxes of this sociological phenomenon is hardly a simple proposition. Nor is devising a temporary structure whose completion requires a physicist, SolidWorks mechanical-design software, and a team of nearly a dozen. But that didn't stop Simparch, a collaborative whose name stands for simple architecture, from tackling both tasks at once. And succeeding. Free Basin, a fully functional kidney-shape skate bowl, is Simparch's latest cheeky effort to upend traditional notions about the built environment.
Artists Steve Badgett and Matt Lynch, founders of the seven-year-old collaborative, masterminded Free Basin. The Chicago real-estate concern Mesa Development funded the project—with a little help from Girl Skateboard of California. To bring the form's complex curves to life, Badgett and Lynch availed themselves of the SolidWorks assistance of Peter Eng, a University of Chicago physicist. (Eng was himself a skateboarder before opting for a real job and a full set of teeth.)
Headed to San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts as part of a U.S. tour, Free Basin debuted at the Hyde Park Art Center in Illinois. Simparch built the installation in the 1928 building's cavernous gallery, slipped between its ornate plasterwork ceiling and terrazzo floor. Visitors approached from the underside of the 7-foot-deep, 40-foot-long structure, which was built with ribs of aspen plywood and supported by steel posts. Halfway down a sidewall, a steel spiral staircase ascended to Free Basin's Baltic birch plywood platform. The bowl's curves beckoned, encircled by concrete coping.
Catching air does heighten the visceral impact of the installation, regardless of venue. However, you don't need a board to appreciate the experience. Void of activity, Free Basin attains the minimal monumentality of a Richard Serra sculpture.