Inspiring young people to shape their city as they see fit.

Janne Saario, the Finnish skater inspiring young people to shape their city as they see fit.

Janne Saario is in the middle of sculpting. He’s leading a skatepark-building workshop called ‘DIY Concrete’ in Helsinki, where he lives, during Wastelands – a two-week festival organised by the European Architecture Students Assembly that explores unused and wasted spaces in urban areas.

“The workshop is offering students a new way of looking at concrete as a soft and organic material,” says the Element advocate, who has built skateparks and plazas across Europe. “People are used to thinking concrete is made with moulds, all sharp and rectangular. But we hand-shape the concrete so it’s more like making snow sculptures. This method of making concrete is only used in swimming pools and skateparks, it’s a pretty rare thing.”

At the end of the festival, Element will premiere a brand new documentary about Janne called Second Nature – exploring skateboarding, architecture and nature through his eyes. “I wanted to inspire young skaters because they are spending a lot of time in public spaces and working with their hands,” says Janne, who loves the natural environment – “organic, smooth bedrock shaped by the ice age” – just as much as the urban. Most recently, he incorporated recycled industrial elements for his Steel Park in Luleå, Sweden. “It’s kind of showing that skateboarding is a really good background to develop skills further as you grow up and need to find a real job! I hope the documentary will be used as a tool for different communities to show their officials that it’s possible to make great places for skateboarding that are interesting architecturally and add value to the surroundings.”

Although he thinks Helsinki is pretty progressive when it comes to skateboarding in the city – “we can skate outside the modern art museum, for example, because the head chief says that skateboarding is part of the landscape” – Janne believes that purpose-built skateparks are the only places really free from control. “Finland, and other countries too, aren’t designed for young people,” he insists. “The kids’ playgrounds, sports fields and regular parks all have regulations. You can’t be wild there and jump around and be noisy, do whatever young people do, drink beers, whatever! But a skatepark brings this sort of free environment to everyone.”