Now that Brutalism is back in Vogue, it is time we all were reminded that Peter and Alison Smithson were prols. They descended on London from the North with a mind to attack the bourgeois establishment controlling the architectural scene. They succeeded with the help of a prolific writer and critic, Reyner Banham, who was proletarian too. He described his attachment to bicycle transport as emblematic of his working class roots—his way of differentiating himself from his middle class colleagues who, in the 60s, all drove.
The messages have since been reversed. These days your car is a symbol to yuppies that you missed the urban house price rise so have been relegated to life in the suburbs. Conversely, your box bike is a sign that you beat the price rise so are now in a position to preach.
However, none are so preachy as the pretenders, those who rent in the city yet tend urban farms and parade their box bikes in an effort to con their way into the yuppy establishment. Most will succeed, since despite their financial position they are from middle-class backgrounds. They have the right habitus, as Pierre Bourdieu would have said, so know how to weasel their way with the bourgeoise.
To the extent that the bourgeoise are leading the cycling renaissance, I’m willing to play along, no matter how vulgar their motives. Only to a point though. The moment I get any sense that the bike craze has trickled down to the prols, my focus is shifting to new subdivisions, mega-malls and commuting. The environment, economy, and the health of our nations depends on the masses all cycling, not whether cycling is trendy behind the gates of Versailles.
By the way, my latest bike acquisition is a 1964 Moulton F-Frame, as once ridden by Reyner Banham. And my latest architectural investigations involve twisting the Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens estate into multi-helical forms so the aerial streets can be cycled on to the ground without ever using the lift. In my mind, I’m completing Peter, Alison and Reyner’s mission. I’m also trying to drink more, and write a brief blog post every day.