Uneven ground planes and bikes

Walking on a velodrome is like cycling on cobbles. So build inclined and smooth surfaces where you would like to see bikes, and level rough surfaces where you would like to see people walking. This seems like the natural way to part cyclists and pedestrians in shared zones without giving either that dangerous sense of entitlement that arises the moment you start painting stencils.

Farnsworth House

corbusier dom-ino

How serendipitous is it therefore, that architects, now more than ever, should be fascinated with uneven ground planes and floors? Mies van der Rohe’s
rolex centerdefinition of architecture as the making of “universal space” or Le Corbusier’s similar idea of the domino plan, seem like ancient history these days. SANAA’s Rolex Learning Centre is the new Farnsworth house. Universal space, just like space as cosmologists see is, has become curved.


I’m in the mood for a list, of works of architecture that make a feature of uneven floors: Lewerence’s Klippan Church Sweden; Le Corbusier’s chapel in Ronchamp; Steven Holl’s cité de l’océan et du surf; Heatherwick Studio’s “Seed Cathedral” at Shanghai Expo 2010; Peter Eisenman’s Jewish Memorial in Berlin; Nox Architects’ Water Pavilion; FOA’s Yokohama International Port Terminal… alright, there must be hundreds!

Hopefully I’ll remember to come back and add standout examples, or perhaps you will suggest some with a comment. The point I want to make is quite simple, and has nothing to do with warped space time (as interesting an angle that may be to pursue). I’m simply saying that an interest in undulating ground planes among architects, is coinciding right now with a period in the evolution of cities when finding ways to separate bikes from pedestrians is important for the happiness of both.


  1. Gunnstein says:

    Pedestrians don’t like cobbles either, in my experience. They’ll choose the paved areas.

    • Steven says:

      Any shared zone can be redesigned to use gravity, texture and slope to naturally part pedestrians and cyclist. You just have to sit down with some paper and start designing, in a site specific way, the architects do. The engineering minset, where you make blanket claims and devise blanket guidelines, is better reserved for highway design

  2. Julie says:

    fed square

  3. Gunnstein says:

    Steven, I speak from experience as a cyclist observing pedestrians. If you know working examples of the contrary, all good. If not, well, it’s nice theory but I’ll believe it when I see it.

    • Steven says:

      Good point, I have no working examples. I have a mental library of things I’ve seen work in lost of countries — the Northern Italians are the masters of fluid shared spaces. Plus I have work on the drawing board. Ah but come on, you have to believe in the possible, not only what has been done before. My blog is about what we do NEXT.

  4. BP says:

    Draw a sketch of what you’re describing Steven? How sloped would be the cyclists’ slope, and would civilian cyclists like cycling on a sloped surface? (When wet, ice in winter, etc.?)

    • Steven says:

      Good point. I’ll do something tonight, and post it shortly. I also have a group of students working on pretty version, but until then, my old hand drawing will need to suffice.

  5. Gunnstein says:

    Sure, I’m all for experimenting to find better ways to do things, so go for it! Still, someone has to be the engineering grouch who surly points out that 1) nothing is new under the sun, everything has been done before by someone and 2) it’s a good idea to check what results those guys got and 3) if they failed, find out why before you proceed in the same direction. Success is preferable, but failure is good too if it’s at least a new, unique and interesting failure 😉

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