August 2nd, 2011

A loophole to make buildings unsafe but more fun

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. 

Help me fathom the bike/fashion nexus

Why is the bicycle this season's fashion accoutrement? These are photos I took in Florence, around the fashionable quarter, where the wrong bike for those shoes could bring the whole look undone. I imagine these two-wheelin' flâneurs buying bikes that have been bashed up and pre-oxidized, in the same artisan workshop where their $800 jeans, were likewise artfully stressed, to within a thread of falling apart. Are designers telling the clients who come to them to learn how to dress: "Darling, I don't think a coaster brake is right for you. Let me see you on something that has a derailleur." But my real question, is what lay behind the fashion world's sudden adoption of bikes, and vintage bikes in particular? Why is cyclin' so freakin' chic'?

My theory is that the dilapidated bike tells tourists, and those from the burbs, that its rider actually lives here, among all the funky shops and cafes. Furthermore, their citizenry here in their old hood, dates back as far as their bike. And even back then they were too highly principled to have ever gone in for white flight. A whole mythology can be alluded to, with the right bike.

I'm seeing bikes as symbols of fashionable values. One could plonk an old tractor in a store, and drape it with blue jeans, but the result would lack the particular evocations being sought using bikes. Or am I being too cynical of my own kind?