Rafael and I got to talking and have decided to write a book. Actually, we have a lot of the research completed already, Raf from his doctoral studies, and me from my regular musings. I guess all we were waiting for was a hook. An architectural book must have a hook, for the simple reason that architects need to be tricked into reading. They don’t turn to scholarly journals the way doctors do to keep themselves current, preferring to just look at the pictures. Publishers used to provide these in glossies. But now that the same pictures are all free on the web, the architectural press is responding with books that sucker architects into reading—an activity which hitherto they could avoid. On the whole, you have to view this as a welcome development.
The actual hook for the book I’m announcing was neither Raf’s idea or my own, but came from Adrian Carter from Aarlborg University in Northern Denmark. Adrian is here in Tasmania this week, which found us at the same table for dinner on Thursday. I told him about my ride-through video of the 8-House (soon to hit 30,000 views on youtube). He told me about LA Climbs: Alternative Uses For Architecture, a book with complete diagrams and instructions to help free-climbers go up the outside of buildings. “You should write a book about riding in buildings,” Adrian told me, even promising to write the book foreword.
I’ve lost count of the number of works from the architectural canon I have ridden on or within. The most memorable, surely, was the unite d’habitation. Here’s how to do it. Just walk your bike through the foyer, take the lift to level 8 for a ride down the aerial shopping street, then continue via the lift to the roof. Here, the world’s most famous sculptural playground will unfold before for you. Don’t worry. You can’t go over the edge. There is a dry-moat between the ramp-shaped forms and the 1.8m balustrade. I saw no “no cycling” signs and was not spoken to by security who monitor the area with CCTV cameras. As long as you’re mindful of others and don’t harm the building, you can ride inside.
Ride Inside will be a companion book for lovers of architecture wishing to undertake their grand tours with a bike, and not have to chain it and enter on foot. Pregnant within this absurd publishing premise is the natural question: “why would anyone want to ride inside anyway?” Why indeed!
Cycling and cities have never had a period of decades to grow into each other the way, for example, old couples do. They have not had a century of being inflected upon one another the way driving and cities did in the twentieth-century. Yet the bike is a far more elegant device than the car. With a bike, the payload is also the motor. That leaves no redundant motor to park, repair and eventually dump and replace. Why, when it perfectly embodies the rationalising principles that inspired twentieth-century architecture, did the bike not generate building types and urban patterns? Why, instead, did we get suburbia and buildings with giant in-built garages? I put it down to a case of mistaken identity, not once, but twice in the history of cycling.
The first occurred during the first bicycling boom in the 1890s when bikes were mistaken for horses. We can tell by the way they were left outside buildings, as though they might shit on the floor if brought inside, or kick anyone walking behind them. The potential to use bikes as shopping trollies, prams for babies, or both, was not taken up because they were called “silent steeds”.
They were mistaken again in the bike boom of the 1970s. This time they were called “vehicles”, albeit of the human powered variety. The flattery backfired as soon they were relegated to moving in-carriage with cars and banned from being used in parks, along waterfronts and on the footpath. That was the death nail.
Ride Inside seeks to redefine the bike as a kind of prosthesis, with the potential of improving the body’s load carrying ability and speed, without impacting on our civility within indoor environments or within parks or other outside spaces where bike are commonly banned. Showing this to be true in a fun way, with photos, Nolli maps, and good old fashioned advice for the traveller, will open the way for discussions of more weighty topics, like the kinds of buildings and urban patterns we need to be building in the twenty-first century if we want cities that can maximise interaction and keep us healthy.
We have some catchy ideas for rewards when we get to the crowd funding stage, that could mean you being featured in the actual book. Right now though, we’re crowd sourcing ideas. We want you to tell us the buildings, and perhaps parks, that you would most like to see featured in Ride Inside. When we have compiled a strong enough list we’ll let the public decide, via a survey, on the actual buildings that will be featured. Please use the comments box below, email me, or post your suggestions on Twitter using the hashtag #RideInside.