November 3rd, 2010

Bicycletecture: goddam I KNEW I would find you!

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.

Old and New Visions

In the 1950s, Louis Kahn was proposing car parking towers ringing Philadelphia's CBD. Today that city holds international design competitions soliciting buildings that will celebrate cycling, like this 3rd place getter, by Swedish architects "We Are You". It turns bicycle parking into a kind of facade treatment.

And while, in the 1950s, happy healthy young families were rushing to buy into the prototypical car-space subdivision, Levittown, today a consortium of developers are offering "Bicycle City", the first in a promised chain of bicycle dependent subdivisions/intentional communities. The architect on their advisory board uses the language of the new urbanism to relay her vision for what might actually come to fruition—developers willing. This is a project to watch! The concept may prove to be mostly rhetorical—ala Celebration—or perhaps little more than developer greenwashing. But I'll admit to feeling uncharacteristically optimistic in this case.