The pedelec as a metaphor for mutant cities of the machine-age

The architectural theorist/historian Kenneth Frampton is best known for teaching architects to mine their own region for wise ways of building, rather than following every international trend. Less known, but even better, is his idea that architects should adopt something he calls a “critical arriere-garde” stance toward technology. In other words, don’t foist machines on your buildings’ users, when good design would achieve the same outcome. I wonder what he would say about the light regulating panels in the Arab Institute in Paris, that stopped working 3 years ago and that will cost too much even for the Arabs to fix? Millions of dollars worth of mechanical irises will forever tell how cloudy it was the moment the whole system failed.

5498007939_da1f5412ba_z

Anyone who has lived with bike transport long enough that cycling is now their habitual choice, is going to have a tight ration of electronic gadgetry on them when riding. Maybe a speedo (I don’t). Maybe a phone. Oh, and lights of course. Anything else is crutch made for newbies as they ween themselves from their dependence on machines for their transport.

This is the problem with e-Bikes. The bicycling newbies who buy them eventually realise that they don’t really need the assistance, at about the same time as the battery permanently carks it. The owner is left pedalling around on some mutant with empty battery holders and a some monster hub.

20081125151514811

The e-bike is a metaphor for the machine-age city and machine-age building. Cities that are built up around train stations, or that spread out along highways, depend upon one of two transport systems that always break down. Residents end up pouring their taxes into keeping the machine-transport running, for the same reason e-bike owners end up buying new batteries. If they don’t, it will be apparent to themselves and everyone else that their city, or bike frame, has been mutated by the technology of a particular time. Go and Google “transit oriented development” and you will find hundreds of over-designed concepts like this one:

02_4_0

At least a pedelec can be recycled and used as a meth lab. Cities are a little more permanent. If the machine-age had only produced a few novel cities designed around cars or trains, they could be used in the future as tourist attractions, like Venice. But we’re literally smothering the world with these mutants.

With my next post I will discuss the mutating effect that machines such as elevators and air-conditioners, are having on apartment design.

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.
This entry was posted in blog. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The pedelec as a metaphor for mutant cities of the machine-age

  1. Nick zintilis says:

    What you say here is very true as you own an old bike in perfect working order will know. In years from now the scrap yards will be full of e-bikes and their 4-wheel counterparts. There will be no Vintage Bike or Car owners in hi-tech vehikels as the electronics will not function. If you are a City Planner you should think twice before using anything that is Hi-tech as it will be No-Tech soon and will haved ceased to function.

  2. fred says:

    Steven,

    Go spend a week in Tokyo, and you’ll realise that this blog you’ve written is nonsense. E-bikes are a sensible way to make cycling an option to the car for those not strong enough to cycle, or who need to carry children, or heavy loads.( And, um, those mechanical cars seem to be doing quite well, come to that..)

Leave a Reply