STEM on: Skatepark engineer

When it comes to being an engineer, you’re not just restricted to a nine-to-five workday and a hard hat.

If you don’t like the idea of a “traditional” engineering job, don’t let that limit your interest in the science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field—there may be hope for you yet.

For instance, did you know you can be a “skatepark engineer?” According to a man named Andrew Willis, you can. But sometimes when you want to have a job that cool, you have to make it happen for yourself.

Breaking barriers

Andrew Willis has always been passionate about skateboarding, so when the opportunity to build his own skatepark came about, he didn’t let it pass him by.

Sometimes when you’re passionate about something, you have to go “all in.” That’s exactly what Willis did. He even left his previous engineering job behind to start again and go after something completely different.

Willis entered a competition for a three-month lease and a piece of land in East London, England. He wanted to build a skateboard park, but with no budget and no plan, Willis had a lot of work to do when he won the competition in 2012.

In an interview, Willis recalls the project as “quite daunting.” But you know what they say: Nothing that’s worth having comes easy. So how did Andrew Willis solve his problem and open a successful skatepark in just four weeks?

Trash or treasure?

Willis didn’t let this opportunity go to waste (literally).

He brought new meaning to the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” when he began to construct his local skatepark from recycling materials in the area.

Developing the skatepark in London. Photo courtesy of Frontside Ltd.
Developing the skatepark in London.
Photo courtesy of Frontside Ltd.

The first thing he did was find local companies he could tap materials from. He soon found out that there was an abundance of reclaimed materials in the area that he could work with, he even used materials left over from the 2012 Olympic Games held in London.

But the challenge didn’t end there. Willis had to learn a variety of skills to make his skatepark a success. He had to learn to do things he’d never tried before, like cutting granite and working with a score of other reclaimed materials.

Remember when I said that engineering could be more than just a nine-to-five job? Sometimes, it’s a lot more. A friend of Willis said in an interview that Willis was at the skatepark 24 hours each day during its construction, even sleeping and eating there. Not what you’d expect, right?

A local legacy

Since it opened, Frontside Gardens has welcomed success and support from the community, which includes support from Google.

Because of its success, the Frontside Gardens project was granted a lease that extended until 2016 by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), which awarded Frontside with the space to begin with. The site, located in Hackney Wick, will probably be developed into something else next year, Andrew Willis said, adding that “It’s been a great 4 years there.”

Frontside Gardens in Hackney Wick, London. Photo courtesy of Frontside Ltd.
Frontside Gardens in Hackney Wick, London.
Photo courtesy of Frontside Ltd.

Since the project found success and completed its mission to “support the local, residential, creative, and business communities,” Willis has further extended these values to his own company, Frontside Ltd., which works to provide a “second home” for communities of skaters and BMXers.

Frontside Ltd. is a sustainable design and construction company with experience in design, skatepark construction, civil engineering, and reclamation. They consider themselves “established specialists,” having built and managed some of the longest-running skateboard installations in the United Kingdom.

Frontside sets itself apart with its commitment to the environment and its effort to reduce the amount of waste being dumped into landfills. The company aims to reuse and recycle. Therefore, these guys are keen to taking on projects that use recycled and reclaimed materials.

Take away

We can learn a lot from the story of Andrew Willis.

First, it can be important—or even necessary—to question the ways things are done by asking how things could be done to better serve the community. For Willis, using reclaimed materials was something he did to make the project work, but it became a standard for the future.

It’s also important to push the conceptual boundaries of what we consider “engineering jobs.” Engineering can be about something you love, something that excites you every day—even if that means charting unknown territory to make it happen.

Skaters enjoying Frontside Gardens. Photo courtesy of Frontside Ltd.
Skaters enjoying Frontside Gardens.
Photo courtesy of Frontside Ltd.

And lastly, we should recognize the social and economic benefits of “green” practices, like the ones at play behind Frontside Gardens. As times goes on, and the environmental crisis heightens, it’s important to have Andrew Willis and like-minded individuals trailblazing renewable practices.

How will you play your part? I’ll give you a hint: consider a job in the STEM field. Will you be a future skatepark engineer? A transportation engineer? The possibilities are endless.

Related links

Skating at Frontside Gardens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uWerv0cxPo

Andrew Willis’ story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvgqDSnpRQM

Frontside’s website: http://www.frontside.org.uk/frontside-gardens.html

By Hannah Postlethwait, Go! Staff Writer