Office Buildings and Bikes: it’s time they just got it on!

Have you ever watched two people flirt then go cold, advance then retreat, be dancing together all night only to head home alone? Don’t you want to just tell them, “hurry up and just get it on”? Well it is the same kind of dance that has been going on between buildings and bikes since bikes were invented.

One minute buildings are letting bikes in. It starts when the boss sneaks his carbon Bianchi into his office. Next, one or two of his workers catch on and bring their bikes to their desks. The first two encourage some others. Before long an area has been set aside in the building that the cyclists are told their bikes cannot stray from.

Nevertheless, things are still pretty good for cycling to work. The bike space is becoming the place to catch up with your workmates. Even Thelma the secretary who has been there forever wants in on the act: she buys a shiny red bike with a basket and starts riding a few kilometres to work from her home, to rawkus applause each time she arrives.

Now the bike room is crowded, everyone is losing kilos and looking forward to coming to work, and that of course means the office is more productive than ever. Lo and behold, the bike room is going to be needed for more workers’ desks. “Sorry”—the boss breaks the news—”but all the bikes are going to have to be chained up to street poles from now on. Or there’s a bike cage in the public car park two blocks away.”

It’s just not the same, is it?

The Netherlands is stuck about here. The flatness, cycle tracks, laws and bike heritage make it look like a cycling nirvana, until you imagine just how much better conditions could be—if only buildings and bikes stopped bitching on one another and consummated this courtship.

The Utrecht University Department of Science, designed by the architectural god Herman Hertzberger, does the best job of any building I’ve seen at dealing with a huge number of people coming by bike to study and work in one place. If it has to be that bikes are left outside, because they number close to a thousand, then making a covered space for them at the front door, with strategically placed windows to ward off the thieves, is a decent solution.

Still, it’s not perfect. Think back to those good old days when everyone brought their bikes inside with them, before it all got out of hand and the boss had to kick the bikes to the street. Hell, even Thelma the secretary was cycling back then! She was cycling because arrival was a kind of reward. Also, knowing her bike was 100% safe, she had been blinging it up. In fact everyone had been adding conversation starters to their bikes: a german light here, and Brooks saddle there. There wasn’t much point to all this when bikes were relegated to the outdoors. They became perfunctory items. Thelma went back to getting her compliments with fancy hair styles. She also went back to driving. So did the boss, who could no longer ride his fancy Bianchi all the way from his house out of town.

And why? All because we insist on treating our buildings as precious virgins. It is as though we are keeping them pure for that transport solution we hope will come one day, that is as efficient as cycling but which doesn’t want to enter the building. New York thinks it has found it with Citi-Bike. Some people think it is coming with driverless taxis. I think it is with us, with personal bicycle ownership. The solution, I think, is to re-imagine buildings as bike-loving whores.

Let’s start with workstations, that have to be redesigned so that bikes can dock neatly. We can’t have things looking dodgy like this:

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Working back toward the door, we want passageways designed to welcome cyclists. Witness Google Amsterdam, and a few student projects to come out of one of my studios:

With a studio I coordinated last year, I invested (wasted) a lot of time looking at ramping circulation for office buildings. The fact that it only works across two or three stories is borne out by Giant’s office headquarters in Taiwan, where the architects have started with a spiralling concept but given up above the first storey. It only looks like a ramped office tower.

Here is a totally new concept. My sketch only shows the office block lift core, with low and mid rise lift banks. Each has an automatic bicycle retrieval shaft off to the side—a kind of dumb waiter for bikes. If you’re arriving at work during rush hour, and can’t fit into the lift with your bike, you will be able to quickly deposit it in the bike lift. Your bike will be held in an underground storage space until, with a swipe card, you call for it to be delivered to your office floor.

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4 Comments

  1. nikdow says:

    So are we proposing bike docking built into the space for each workstation? Probably not necessary, just hang your briefcase or your panniers from a rear rack and bring that up with you. I do like the idea of Japanese-style automated bike storage using left shafts to the basement however. These shafts only need to go downwards. A friend comments that with his bike deep in the basement locked bike cage, it’s not worth retrieving it for a short lunch-time trip, and with his helmet also deep in the basement, the bike share is useless. Being able to quickly bring up one’s bike via the automated retrieval, and even more quickly store it away on return would be just the sort of improvement to convenience that we know is important in getting more people to use bikes. It might be more convenient than having to bring one’s bike down in the lift from up high, and would use less space.

  2. Jonathan R says:

    The bike dumbwaiter, either to the office or to the storage, is a great idea. Bicycles in passenger elevators are inconvenient and take up lots of room.

  3. crank says:

    Glass floor so the boss can still admire his pride and joy while waiting for the elevator?

    • Steven says:

      I hadn’t thought of that, but yes, now that you mention it, glass floors over bike parking machines would make for fun viewing, in any setting. Not sure why the Japanese aren’t exploiting that possibility.

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