Like many a creative professional, NJIT's Jim Dyer, associate dean of architecture, knows a sure method for trend-spotting. He listens to his four children.
As a result, this year NJIT's School of Architecture's high-school-student design competition will tap into a hot national trend, the popularity of skateboarding. The school will hold a contest challenging entrants to come up with plans for a public skatepark.
Contest announcements will be mailed to 15,000 students across the nation on Oct. 10. NJIT's goal in sponsoring the contest is to attract national talent to the school, Dyer says. "It's our way of extending the the talent pool."
The competition, an annual event for the NJIT School of Architecture, has drawn hundreds of entrants in past years. The first prize, five-year scholarship to the architecture school, has a value of $65,000 to out-of-state students. Second place will be a five-year scholarship offering a 50 percent reduction in tuition each year. The specific design topic changes every year. Dyer, and special lecturer John Nastasi, a Hoboken architect who is contest coordinator, think this year's topic will be a winner.
Though skateboards have been around for decades, the art of riding them has more recently become a commercially endorsed sport. Skateboarding has professional athletes and is featured in the "X Games" a televised competition organized by the ESPN cable network. Building and designing the parks has become an industry in itself.
There are close to 500 skateparks in the nation, according to skateboardparks.com. California leads the nation with 68 skateparks. Of New Jersey's 12 parks, several are commercial enterprises, such as the nearby RexPlex, a 2,000 square-foot indoor facility near Newark Liberty International Airport in Elizabeth, NJ. But more and more communities are building their own parks, says Dyer. Not only can the sport be fun to watch, having a sanctioned park keeps skateboarders away from other public spaces where they can be a hazard to pedestrians.
Dyer says sons Christopher, 14, and Brendan, 10, had been telling him all summer that building a town skatepark would benefit their own community, Danbury, Connecticut.
"They even petitioned our mayor," says Dyer.
Figuring that if his kids are interested, others will be too, Dyer hopes this year's challenge could draw a record number of entrants.
"Last year's design project was a community center. Boring," Dyer says, "We got 100 entries. The year we asked for a design for a firehouse we had over 1,000 entries."
Nastasi--who says he skateboarded in his youth on the Wildwood boardwalk--is also excited about this year's topic. He sees the parks as public theatre. The design criteria call for a skateboard arena, where participants will ride their boards; seating for spectators; and a service facilty to include locker rooms, maintenance and administration areas, and a first-aid station.
"It's a kind of modern urban theatre," says Nastasi, "an idiosyncratic contemporary urban landscape."
From an architectural viewpoint, the design will be judged on how well the student contestant incorporates the "skin" of the structure, the forms of skateboard ramps, the need for access--all with an eye to making the structure enticing to the public as a park while making efficient use of the alloted space.
The deadline for entrants will be in February and the winners announced May 3, 2004.
"This our year to be dramatically different," says Dyer. ---Gale Scott