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Top 5 bikes of importance to architects

Meager pay, but recognition. That is the standard contract for architects. Recognition for what though? Most often, it is for creatively solving something that would otherwise have left life not fully optimized. This is what draws so many of us to cycling. Fast across town. No parking worries. A free workout. The bike kills many birds with each stone, just like an elegant piece of design.


It is often said that I am the world's foremost authority regarding this nexus between cycling and architecture—sometimes, I even say so myself. I've certainly not heard it said that I'm not. In any case, my nearest rivals don't care for the mantle, so let's say it's me, and let us say too, that these are the 5 bikes all architects really should be aware of, and maybe even make it their mission to own.



NUMBER 1. If you have not yet allowed the Brompton into your heart, you need to catch up. Its designer, Andrew Ritchie, has done with a bike what we do each time we jam three bedrooms into a loft. The satisfaction that comes from fitting something functional into no space at all, will be yours in ample measure. Go for a clear lacquer superlight single speed with a Brooks saddle, and John Ruskin's ghost will be riding beside you. (Other small wheel bikes of note are the Moulton Space Frame as ridden by Norman Foster, The Moutlon F-Frame as ridden by Reyner Banham, The Strida, and the architect designed Mora Bike. By all means look them up, but the Brompton is your Vitruvius: where everything starts). 


 
NUMBER 2. We move now, to the Velomobile. Not the faux car you will find if you type Velomobile into google, but the Sunrider from Holland, the particular velomobile that, to my mind, best balances space-age aesthetics with practicalities. Here is a whole thesis on velomobiles. The crux of the matter is this: hauling the extra weight of these things up hills, is paid back when you hit 120km p/h going back down, but wind drag is a dead loss, and its force against you is cubed relative to your increase in speed, while increases in rolling resistance are pegged to your speed. That is what makes these things so captivating to bike buffs, futurists, and people like me, who wonder how cities will look after the car. Oh, and they keep you out of the rain. For those architects purporting to be saving the planet, by building buildings, velomobiles might even redeem all of those award winning "green" weekenders of theirs, that are 40 minutes by car from any shops or public transport.

Here I must express sincerest apologies to my countrymen at Trisled, makers of the most practical, fast, yet affordable velomobile in production, anywhere in the world, even Holland. In an earlier iteration of this post, I had actually given the award to their Rotovelo. However, my nagging unease that it looks like a canoe, in the end steered me back to the less practical, heavier, more expensive, but sexier looking Sunrider from Holland. Watch out though Sunrider, your rivals here in Australia are but one clay model, and a few decals, away from wiping you out altogether.



NUMBER 3. Since most architects would be out of a job if the world stopped believing in designer-name bullshit, we should always be the first ones to buy it. Biomega bikes, designed by the layabout (fn.1) son of a billionaire—by concensus a big-D "Designer"—are everything we stand for as a profession. They're made in Taiwan by learner welders and cost twice as much as anything similar. Their signature model, The Boston, makes disconcerting creaking sounds as you pedal and has a folding mechanism that stabs your right knee with each pass. Their website, choice of fonts, and their logo make everything else on the internet look like a free template from Wordpress. They're in cahoots with Bjarke Ingels. So what more can I say? Each of us needs one, to match our Corb glasses.



NUMBER 4. From the hyperreal city, to the Finnish log cabin: that's where a Renovo will take you, when you hang up your Biomega and hop onto one of these lovingly crafted wooden delights. I suggest you don't quote Pallasmaa, or rip off another detail by Peter Zumthor, until you are riding on one of these. I visited their factory in Portland last May: laminated wood, CNC routed inside and out, to make a bike that sounds and feels like a musical instrument. Truly sublime!



NUMBER 5. I've thought of the functionalist, the futurist, the trendoid and the phenomenologist daydreaming hippie. That just leaves the outsider. I'm thinking now of that guy who presented a mosaic as his final year thesis, who was 50 yet somehow managed to be dating one of your classmates straight out of high school, who no one ever heard from again. WTF is he riding? No doubt, something improbable. I figured the dilemma this left me (finding a bike to suit Mr. Mosaic) could only be solved by reference to our bible of improbable bikes, the Embacher Collection, where sure enough, there it was, the Skoot Koffer-Rad. Self assured, and clever by halves. Come to think of it, so many architects I have known, would be perfectly matched to this bike.       
Please let me know if you don't agree with my choices—bearing in mind, you're not the expert.

Footnotes. fn1. Of course I have no actual proof of this, but come o-o-o-on!!

What is it to cyclescape?

A designer, as we know, is landscaping when they conceive planting and earthworks to edify viewers walking about a cultivated landscape. We could say they are streetscaping, when they are thinking of the space between buildings as some kind of room, framed by multiple buildings all having a collective duty to make that outdoor space legible and comfortable to pedestrians.

A designer is cyclescaping when creating largely paved open spaces with buildings arranged so as to look spectacular during a fly-through, only viewers can't fly—the closest they can come to that, is to cycle. BIG's proposal for a sweeping plaza/bridge in Stockholm, with buildings seemingly shaped by bicycle flows, is a good example of what I call cyclescaping. 
Architects, listen up. I may have found you all a great way of justifying sloping floors and other whimsical forms that defy building codes, because they're unsafe. I was tutoring a student today, who asked if it is possible to call a ramp in a building something other than a ramp for wheelchairs. The building he has in mind would have a lift to provide access to the disabled. He wants to build sloping floors, for aesthetic reasons, not to provide essential access routes.

Now this got me thinking: what if areas inside of buildings could be designated as skate parks, street trials cycling rinks, or parkour studios? I had just read a friend's online article about OMA's Prada Store in New York, where a wavy floor might have been labeled "proscenium arch", or something equally vague, on whatever plans were submitted for building approval. Sure, the Prada Store is a shop, but the conceit is that it has a theater inside.

Okay, so what if an art gallery had a skate rink inside? Who would come back to check that it was ever actually being used as a skate rink, and not for the temporary display of artworks? I would think a sign warning gallery visitors that skating is a risky activity, pursued at their own risk, would cover the institution's arse in the event that some gallery viewer got distracted by painting and fell off a half-pipe. After-all, they were there for the skating—at least that's what we'll claim.

Call the floor of your neighborhood public library a venue for parkour, and there would be no limiting the crazy and hazardous forms you might make.       

If you throw the next three clips together as a soup in your mind, architects, something creative may just pop onto your page. They feature Danny Macaskill bouncing off of architecture around Lisbon (do write and tell me any specific places you recognize), the architectural professor Iain Borden riding a skateboard, and Bjarke Ingels egging on loonies to treat his Mountain Dwellings in Copenhagen as a place to cause themselves injuries. 

 

Project: 8-House. Architect: Bjarke Ingels Group. Location: Orestad. Cost of the unit: half a million US/Aussie dollars. I want it!

Orestad, Copenhagen

As though I were a guinea pig, prepared to be tortured to death for your learning, I have come to stay a whole week in Daniel Libeskind's Holocaust Hotel in the bubble-economy inflatable town of Orestad, South of Copenhagen. This is an island formerly used for dumping Copenhagenites' shit. Now they dump big fuck-off buildings out here, by Libeskind and Bjarke Ingels, just up the road from even bigger FOs by the likes of Nouvel. My comrade in bike blogging, Mikael Colville-Andersen, has kindly been getting me smashed on local beer, in the old/real part of town, in case too much time out here on shit-island should leave me like Jack Nicholson in that last scene of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. 

But Orestad is cycle-space! Huge brownfield tracts, cut into big parcels for big pension funds to develop, and laid out with way-too generous pedestrian space, just perfect for cycling: this is what I call cycle-space. In any other city than Copenhagen, this would be the most bike-friendly area, giving cycling a foothold in car-ville. In car-loving cities, or moped cities (as Copenhagen could yet become), the continuous parkways snaking through areas like these, compare well, to older parts of town congested with cars. 
  
It is just that Orestad stands beside a great cycling metropolis, and is way way bigger than normal brownfields. Neither does it flank something uplifting, like a harbour. Yes, and it is quite a way out of town. Oh, and it is on a windy plane that I can only imagine will be unbearable 3 months from now, when Autumn hits. How to combat those drawbacks? Inflate the place packed full of brand-named starchitecture and public art!

Well, 3 days in, and I could not give a flying fudge cake if god himself designed this hotel I am cooped up in, writing this entry. Jean Nouvel can go to hell: knowing he is famous, and designed that blue building, does not edify me in the slightest. I'll confess, 8-House, by BIG, with its bike access ramp to replace regular corridors, does provide smashing amenity, and reasonably high density, but enough that I would want to live there? Oh gee, I've cooked my goose here!

Alright, here's what I'm thinking, that cycle-space is nice to visit, to commute via, to head on down to for drinks or a coffee, but personally, I would not want to live in any of these places, with their big new mixed-use buildings. Give me an old terrace house area, flanking cycle-space, so I can use cycle-space for my commute, but actually live some place else. That's what I choose. In Copenhagen, the Sunbyoster area, with cycle-space/Orestad on one side, and the beach on the other, might be the ticket.

The problem, you know, are those pension funds. Without them, land would be sold in small parcels, to small time developers, who would give us diversity within the perimeter block format. Never mind though...

What does Jan Gehl ride?

Why, just like Dr. Behooving, Jan Gehl rides a Velorbis—though his staff do say he has BehoovingMoving set as the default page on all of their internet browsers.

Anyone from Velorbis, if you see this, please, get on over to Gehl's office ASAP and set the man up with your new issue stainless steel handlebars and seat pole. The dude's riding around on one of your prototype models. (Unless we're saying rust is aristocratic, in which case, pardon me.)

Gehl is pictured above outside his office, with New York DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who, judging by the way she's all snuggled up, is quite obviously smitten. Further proof that gentlemen, who are architects, who ride Velorbi, are god's gift to women, but you knew that already, if you have read my book Get The Look.

So we know Foster and Banham ride/rode Moultons, that Ingels rides a Biomega, and now, that Jan Gehl rides a Velorbis. This is all vital information I am gathering for you here folks. A little appreciation would not go astray :) I would certainly appreciate any thoughts regarding the make of bike Jane Jacobs is seen riding, in that old picture there on the right.
Conscious as we are now, of the environment, our health and the frightful impact of cars, many architects are looking to the bicycle, as an emblem of the late machine age. They have for some time: Marcel Breuer modeled his Wassily Chair on his Adler bicycle's handlebars; Reyner Banham wrote essays about his Moulton F-frame; Norman Foster's space frame Moulton looks unnervingly like many of his own buildings; and man of the moment Bjarke Ingels, of BIG, has gone into partnership with the designer of his own Biomega. (A dense run of links there for those with an interest).
 
So Breuer rode a German bike, to remind him of his formative years at the Bauhaus. Banham and Foster chose bicycles representative of British engineering. Ingels rides an icon of Danish design. Each is branding himself with his nation's prowess.

By the way, these are screen shots from the SBS television documentary "Designer People [episode 8]", in which presenter Lee Lin talks to Jens Martin Skibsted, Bjarke Ingels and others, about Biomega bicycles, architecture, and maybe a few other topics... I just noticed the bikes and the buildings.
Thanks Roberto for calling me to let me know it was on. A huge thanks to any reader who can give me any more verifiable leads regarding famous architects and what bikes they ride—I'm compiling a list. 
When I was an architecture student, we were often told we should pay no heed to realestate agents' advice about market trends. Realestate agents only knew that which already existed, not that which might be in the future. As architects, we were told we would be visionaries, like Howard Roark. I no longer agree. Realestate agents, despite their cheap suits, relay feedback from everyday people, with whom many architects don't normally associate. I mean, would I mingle with the unwashed? Certainly not!

In bike loving Portland, I recently learned, realestate agents are hearing people want houses with places to store and look after their bikes. We can imagine this request filtering through to architects and impacting the design of speculative apartment developments, could we not?

It is refreshing too, to see postmodern intellectuals' leeriness with regards to hegemonic design processes, finally coming through in the words of a starchitect. I refer to my latest source of fascination and wonder, Bjarke Ingels, who speaks of turning pleasing into a radical agenda (go to 1.00min in this clip). It would be fair to assume the bike ramp access throughout his firm's 8-House development, in Copenhagen, came about as a result of this ethos, especially given the huge numbers who ride bikes in that city. An agent tells a developer, who then tells Bjarke Ingels: "Make space for bikes!"

Woolworth's building, NYC, 1926.       Unite De Habitation 1952                 

The Woolworths Building, and tall buildings thereafter, owe their height to Elisha Otis's plummet-proof elevator of 1852. A century later, Le Corbusier gave a tall apartment building wide access corridors, like streets in the sky. Unfortunately, the streets of his Unite De Habitation were not interconnected, the way streets have to be. They were instead isolated, each a dead end, and each reached via the dark, cramped, disorientating vortex of the passenger lift. Shops on those streets failed, and the lack of pedestrian life made them lonely and foreboding places to be. But imagine if a building could have one continuous access balcony, spiraling from the ground floor to the roof! It would not be an isolated little dead end. It might even be social and happy, like a switch back road winding up through a hill side village perhaps. Only who would want to walk its ungainly length?

8-House, Copenhagen, 2010, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)

Personally, I have trouble walking from my office to the toilet down the hall, a journey I quite often cycle. So I can sympathise! There is no way I would want to walk along a hundred meters of ramp just to go up by one level. In Copenhagen, I would not be alone. People there are used to having wheels to go everywhere. Well there is a thought! How about a continuous spiraling access balcony, that it is not so narrow or steep, that it can't be cycled on, from the ground floor to the upper most flat?

In Bjarke Ingels's 8-House, bike nuts like us will be able to wheel their bikes out of their flats, and be riding, thanks to a wide access balcony gently spiraling its way from the roof to the street. I highly recommend spending some time on their site. The explanations as to how each of their building's forms came to be, would suffice for a whole course in architectural design.
 
No more of this!                     A spiraling access balcony wide enough to cycle along.            The architect trusting his balustrade.

8-House not only solves the problem of the dead lifeless access corridor, but also that of the passenger lift jammed full of bikes. Pedestrians can take the lift, and leave cyclists to ride. Notably, the gradient on the ramp is very easy, as you can see in this video. That is because the figure-8 form turns the building, effectively, into a very long perimeter block. Whoever wrote the NSW planning document for apartment buildings, SEPP65, and the stipulation that access corridors should serve no more than 6 residences on any level, might reconsider their logic if they went to this building. When I was designing and living in apartment buildings in Singapore, I leaned wide access balconies can be social places. So long as bedroom windows don't open onto them, they can bring social harmony. SEPP65 assumes loiterers with no business there, will be challenged if no more 6 units share the corridor on any level. Well, apartment dwellers tend not to challenge anyone, as far as I can ascertain. Isolating buildings cause people to retreat into their flats and bolt up. It may actually be better treating access balconies as well populated streets, with maximum human surveillance, provided free by those who live there.
For a while I have been predicting that this shift we are witnessing in our cities, toward bicycling and away from dependence on cars, would inevitably see the appearance of buildings that celebrate bicycles, the way carchitecture celebrated the car. My regular googling and perusalling of new books and magazines had brought up some buildings that were either purposefully, or coincidentally, bicycle-like. Among them, a velodrome and bike parking station were the standout examples of bicycletecture. However, my hunch all along was that somewhere, someone must have been working on a building wherein the entire plan deferred to the needs of the bike, the way Le Corbusier's plan for the Villa Savoye overwhelmingly gestures to the needs of the car. This morning I found it, the Danish Pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

Designed by Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the pavilion is a twin helix of spirals, the inner one stepped for pedestrians, the outer one ramped for those who prefer to experience the exhibition without getting off of their bike. What a thoroughly civilized gesture to the world's most important! I'm seeing a whole new world for us, spiraling and vaulting over the roof tops, in which we will work, shop and socialize without ever dismounting. Check out this youtube clip of the building. It highlights the need for 115db air horns on bikes, such as I have just bought for mine, to frighten pedestrians so much they will never again dare stand on a bicycle path.

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