Architecture Trends

Hacking urban environments with Parkour

Hacking urban environments with Parkour

Disclaimer to readersBricsys is not encouraging you to practise Parkour/freerunning at home without prior training or supervision, unless you are a Parkour athlete.

What is Parkour?

You may not have heard of Parkour, but chances are you may have unwittingly caught glimpses of it. In tense chase sequences in films you have likely seen characters leaping over rooftops of varying heights, climbing over an 8-foot wall or effortlessly jumping over a waist-height street guardrail to dispose of the threats behind them.
It is difficult to describe such a visually appealing motion sport with words. According to Parkour UK, Parkour is defined as a "non-competitive physical discipline of training to move freely over and through any terrain using only the abilities of the body, principally through running, jumping, climbing and quadrupedal movement".
To perform such fluid movements without assistive equipment and in the fastest and most efficient way possible, a trained Parkour athlete is expected to possess physical fundamentals such as functional strength and fitness, balance, spatial awareness, agility, coordination, precision, control, and creative vision.

History of Parkour

In its modern form, Parkour was founded in France in the 1980s by a group of nine young men who called themselves Traceurs. The word "Parkour" comes from the French term parcours du combattant (obstacle course in English), which is an obstacle course method of military training proposed by physical education pioneer Georges Hébert, prior to the First World War.

The Traceurs split up due to their differing philosophies towards the sport in the 1990s and two different forms of the sport were established, Parkour and Freerunning. While both disciplines look very similar to the untrained eye in terms of obstacle passing, Parkour emphasises more on the efficiency of movements, while Freerunning gives points for stylish acrobatic moves as part of the creative expression by the practitioner.

One of the Traceurs, David Belle, often deemed as the father of Parkour, is well-known for playing the lead character in the quintessential Parkour film franchise District 13 (or Banlieue 13 in French). He grew up watching and listening to his father, who was a fireman and soldier with the Paris Fire Brigade, on how he trained and honed his skills in navigating through obstacles in disaster zones where rubble often stood between the fire brigade and the casualties. David later built on this same philosophy but applied it in an urban context, namely the concrete build-up areas of the French suburban housing estates.

Hacking urban environments with Parkour- Les-Olympiades-Paris-2

David Belle honed his Parkour skills navigating through the cold hard concrete structures found in many post-war French housing estates. Pictured is Les Olympiades in Paris. (Image source)

Examples of Parkour movements

While there are a plethora of Parkour moves documented and experimented by professional Parkour athletes, the following two moves are classic and useful for anyone simply looking for a thrill, or in the worst-case scenario, escaping a potential threat.

1. Side Vault

Hacking urban environments with Parkour- Parkour-8-girl-800x532

The side vault is ideal if you need to overcome a low-level obstacle in your way. (image source)

The side vault, also known as the two-handed vault, is an easy manoeuvre requiring little strength and little momentum. It is handy to use when clearing a waist-height obstacle, i.e., avoiding stair landing balustrades rather than making a detour.

  • Put both hands on the obstacle.
  • Jump over with both legs on one side.
  • Release the hand closer to the legs first, before touching down on the other side.

2.Wall Run

Hacking urban environments with Parkour- Parkour-6

Sequence of a wall run (image source)

The wall run, like the name suggests, involves running straight up a high wall, typically below 2.4m or one storey high. If performed well, you should be able to convert your horizontal momentum into a vertical one so you can mount the wall without too much effort required.

  • Sprint towards the wall at a constant pace.
  • Plant the ball of the dominant foot up on the wall and push off vertically in that split-second.
  • Grab the top of the wall with both hands and bring the chest close to the wall.
  • Pull up with both hands whilst pushing both feet off the wall for better control.
  • Bring one dominant foot to the top of the wall for stability and then perform a vault action as described earlier to get off the wall smoothly.

Understanding space in relation to ergonomics

Hacking urban environments with Parkour-746px-Modulor measurements

A modern take on Le Corbusier's Modular Man, which is an anthropometric scale of proportions based on the height of a man with his arm raised (shaded in grey).

A modern take on Le Corbusier's Modulor Man, which is an anthropometric scale of proportions based on the height of a man with his arm raised (shaded in grey).
Architecture, in its fundamental form, is very much about understanding the human scale, or ergonomics, as architects and designers like to call it. A functional space or building must be designed in relation to the human body, so that we can exist within the three-dimensional environment comfortably, safely, and efficiently.

Let's take an example of a balustrade design.
The top rail of a balustrade normally reaches the waist height of an average person, so one can easily grab hold of the rail for standing or walking support. At the same time, if taken in the context of a raised platform, an appropriately designed balustrade can prevent one from falling over easily or spontaneously as the average human body's centre of mass is around the hips.
This is the reason why compliance with building standards is ubiquitous in architecture. Building regulations (or building codes in US) are set mainly for safety reasons, but poor, uncreative implementation of those design guidance or limitations can often leave us with unfavourably designed spaces or building elements which most find hard to interact with.

'Hacking' spaces and building standards through movement

In the UK, the Approved Document K dictates that the height of handrail guarding for external residential balconies and rooftops is 1100mm to prevent occupants from falling over.
If you happen to have a shorter stature, you might find the top rail at 1100mm height reaching closer to your chest than your waist as described earlier. What if you must get around that guarding? Would you do a vault, or could you crawl under the rail between the balustrades if the space below allows? What would be the best way, in response to your physical limitations, to tackle the obstacle?

By first understanding your body parameters, you will discover your optimal method of negotiating those physical obstacles. Everyone has their individual interpretation of interacting in that scenario, so do not feel pressured to simply copy or follow someone else's way of doing so.
As urban sprawl becomes more rampant across the world, residents often find themselves covering w unnecessary distances and making detours, especially on meandering ramps, when the destination is simply a few metres away when measured from a straight-line distance.

But what if you could "hack" this journey into an efficient shortcut by understanding the capabilities of your own physical body and safely bypassing the obstacles determined by the rigid building regulations?
If you are looking to add some thrill or adrenaline to your commute, rather than counting a few thousand more mundane steps on your pedometer, perhaps Parkour could be the answer.

Interested in creating your Parkour playground?

If you are tempted to train Parkour in the comfort of your garden, you can consider designing and creating your own Parkour playground with BricsCAD Shape!

Download BricsCAD Shape free

Hacking urban environments with Parkour- Parkour-Playground-2

An outdoor Parkour playground to test your physical limits. (image source)

Follow us on social media


This is Bricsys

Bricsys, part of Hexagon, is the global technology company that creates the BricsCAD® family of computer aided design products and the Bricsys 24/7 project collaboration platform.

© 2022 Bricsys NV. All rights reserved. 
Part of hexagon