The city as a canvas.

Some time ago I wrote in this blog how almost a decade ago I presented my M.Phil thesis at the Higher Technical School of Architecture of San Sebastian about the relationship between skateboarding in the streets and urban development.

At that time little academic literature about this research field could be found, but now thankfully this subject area has grown and gets a lot of exposure thanks to the first international academic conference named Pushing Boarders.

Here I’d like to share with you an abstract with my proposal, which develops around embodied cognition and skateboarding, for this year’s Pushing Boarders event in Sweden… I’ll keep you updated about this project!

Embodied Cognition and Skateboarding:
Rethinking our environment by experiencing the city.

The practice of skateboarding helps rethink and redefine the environment of the user through the opportunities found in the urban context (BORDEN, 2001). From this point of view we can conceive the urban landscape as an empty canvas (VALLELY, 2018) for our brains which are control centers for dealing with the the affordances (opportunities and risks) of our mobile life. This complex organ designed by natural selection can extract -in cooperation with the sensory-motor system- the needed semantic information from its habitat in order to control different tasks (DENNET, 2017).

The kind of Embodied Cognition presented here is the claim that the brain is not the only resource we have available to generate behaviour. Our conduct emerges from the real-time interaction between a nervous system in a body with particular capabilities to process information and an environment that offers opportunities for action to this organism (BARRET, 2015). Therefore, the brain is part of a broader system that mixes perception and action instead of being an entity that represents symbolic knowledge about the world and simply uses it to output commands. The way in which we are embodied not only constrains the way we can interact in the world, but our particular form of embodiment also partly determines the way the world appears to us. We might say that cognition is constructive since these fundamental sensorimotor experiences achieved through acting (skateboarding) in the world are actively constructed to facilitate concept formation (LAKOFF & JOHNSON, 1999).

Since our mind is a product of the body (MORGADO, 2015), our cognitive development as skateboarders arises through our movements while experiencing the city’s landscape. At the same time proprioception helps acquire information about the positions and movements of our own bodies- via receptors in the joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin- which it can be considered also an aesthetic sense (GAIL-MONTERO, 2016). This way skateboarding can not only help us develop coordination within our built environment, but also offers us an active and artistic interpretation of the space/time relationship between our bodies and the city.


Barrett, L. (2015) “Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds”. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

Borden, I. (2001) “Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body”. Berg, Oxford.

Dennett, D. (2017) “From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds”.  W. W. Norton & Company, New York.

Gail-Montero, B. (2016) “Thought in Action: Expertise and the Conscious Mind”. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Lakoff, G., and Johnson, M. (1999) “Philosophy In the Flesh: The Embodied Mind And Its Challenge To Western Thought. New York”. Basic Books, New York.

Morgado-Bernal, I. (2015) “La fábrica de las ilusiones: Conocernos más para ser mejores”. Editorial Ariel, Barcelona.

Vallely, M. (2018) “Bruce Lee Podcast. #127 Interview with Mike Vallely”.

*(Pictures: & Eñaut Oiarbide by Javi Cobo).

2 thoughts on “The city as a canvas.

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