Bikes give architects an edge, not a burden.

I have a friend who works in an architectural practice who passed my book around his office, to gauge his colleagues’ reactions. The book might as well have a deaf and blind mother in a wheelchair pushing a stroller pictured on the front cover. “Cyclists!” they all complained. “Who will we be having to cater for next?!”

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Lean forward!!!

Lean forward!!!

People with disabilities can thank the Vietnam war for building codes granting them equal access to buildings. Servicemen returning with fewer legs had a lot of political clout. But architects can thank an industry that has grown around the issue of disabled access for regulations that expand by the year, to the point where many architects now complain of having to design for the disabled disabled.

As a non practicing architect, I think my harder working colleagues are a bunch of girls blouses. Is it really too much to ask that buildings consider all users? Show the disabled some grace! On the other hand though, I can imagine somewhere the world’s most clumsy dunce in a wheelchair is being paid to fumble with knobs, while the researchers observing draft laws requiring telepathic door hardware in every new building.

But architects, friends, the bicycling agenda is another kind of issue entirely. It is not a burden unto your enterprise. It represents opportunities. It comes that you might eliminate car parks, the bane of your site yields. And it is here to bring people to developments that might otherwise be totally lifeless.

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Most importantly, bicycle transport is not the traffic engineering issue architects might assume it to be. In fact, it falls squarely in architects’ courts to address. The reason, is that in cities where voters demand that the whole of the road be optimised for their driving, cycling is thriving on waterfronts, rail easements and former brownfields. These are all places that Architects have more influence over than road engineers.

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It falls to architects too to provide secure end-of trip facilities. Think of all the work architects will receive as rail stations are retrofitted with secure bicycle parking. If there was nowhere to park cars, there would be no cars on the road, except for taxis. In the same way, there can be no bicycle transport without places to chain up a bike that either have good surveillance, or are secure.

Architects like Le Corbusier catalysed an age of freeways and driving, by showing the world that the house of the future would make a central feature of parking for cars. Architects today have a once in 100 year opportunity to really change cities, by showing how the house of the future could make a central feature of bicycle parking, and thus precipitate an age of bike paths and sustainable transport.

Le-Corbusier-Villa-Stein-de-Monzie-1927So don’t be a whiner. If this were a blog about wheel chairs, I would say to stop complaining about the disabled. But since it’s a bike blog, I should point out the difference between wheelchairs and bikes. We design for wheelchairs as a matter of fairness, but not to increase the overall number of people who use them. We design for bikes to encourage as much use of them as possible.

About Steven

I'm on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics, who see the potential for bicycles to change cities and buildings. My PhD is in architectural history and my interdisciplinary research spans art theory, philosophy and cultural studies. I teach architectural history and theory and design studio at The University of Tasmania, Australia, and formerly worked as an architect designing large public housing projects in Singapore. My favourite bikes are a titanium racing bike I use for racing, a Velorbis retro commuter for riding to cafes and work, a single speed ultra light Brompton that I take with me when I travel on planes, a 29er hard tail mountain bike that I get lost on in remote places, an old track bike that scares me, a 1984 Colnago Super with all original campagnolo components that is plugged into a virtual realm that I train in, and a Dutch-made Bakfiets, that could easily replace half of the bikes I just mentioned.
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One Response to Bikes give architects an edge, not a burden.

  1. Edward says:

    Good point and a potential business opportunity too. There seem to be companies that manufacture bike racks and rails of different types but I am not sure I have heard of an architect firm that specialises in retrofitting buildings and areas to cater for cycle traffic. In the coming years I can see a bit of a market for that developing – all those State Governments and local councils needing help.

    I am not being facetious. We have seen what happens when this sort of thing is left as an afterthought by people who either have not given sufficient thought to the users of their designs or simply do not know what they are doing.

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