Why do art and design schools always seem to have the most bikes?

Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard

Honestly, this wasn’t concocted. I didn’t plan to bring home photos of buildings drowning in bikes from my time last year at Harvard, and find all of those buildings just happen to be schools teaching creative degrees of some kind. But now that I have noticed a pattern,  I would like to run wild with this thought, leap to conclusions, and generally generalise, first by saying that graduates of art, architecture and design programs are generally better placed to design buildings and cities for bikes, because more of them cycled as students, and second, that people who have never been cyclists (certain town planners? or some engineers?) look like white guys designing indigenous centres, when they try to design cycling infrastructure and facilities. They look vaguely condescending and secretly scared. Just as conservatives might look warily upon indigenous groups, there is a tendency to fear cycling becoming too wild, unless it’s appeased.

Harvard Graduate School of Design

Of course, the other explanatory theory, is that creative schools all had to have brutalist buildings, as though concrete overhangs would provide their students with the requisite whackiness to be artistic. We know one thing: overhangs provided convivial spots to put bike racks.




  1. Hemp Bike says:

    Nothing to do with them being relatively more penniless then?

    • Steven says:

      I guess engineering and planning students are more likely to have full time employers sponsoring part time study… so maybe

  2. @ambrown says:


    Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of Art actually has removed car parking spaces in lieu of space for bikes; this google maps photos shows that even in the summer, when there’s no class in schedule, bikes are heavily used.

    • Steven says:

      that link makes a convincing point. I think I’m onto something here, and wonder how I can crowd source even more of these?

  3. Can’t believe you were here last year. I live 10 minutes walk from some of the places in these photos; would love to have met you!

    • Steven says:

      Well I’m sure to be back. You know, I would love to hear you shared a coffee with Anne Lusk at the Harvard School of Public Health. She’s a great friend and colleague, who I know would just love your blog (if she doesn’t read it already).

  4. tk says:

    in my experience visiting other academic institutions, budding scientists are the other lot of students likely to have a lot of bikes outside their yellow brick or brutalist buildings (or under, or on top
    of – theft being of greater concern relative to lower income levels). the difference being that when design students grow up they buy European hatchbacks. grown up scientists continue to cycle.

    • Steven says:

      I shared house as a student with a medical physicist (hi Martin) who cycled and has stayed with it. I think it’s a computer science building, but the Stata Centre at MIT (designed by Frank Gehry) has lots of bikes in front too. Guilty your honour: I I fudged my results!

  5. tk says:

    well everyone here knows anecdotes aren’t data. but they’re more fun. I shared house (stunning old brissie qld’er on the river opposite UQ) with an archi / planning academic (quentin stevens, know him?). he walked everywhere and wouldn’t share his car (Volvo). great bloke otherwise though, I think he’s in England now.

    • Steven says:

      while we’re relying on anecdotal evidence, I will say I’m deeply suspicious of anyone named Quentin, and know cyclists generally think less of those who drive Volvos. As for your Quentin, I don’t know him personally, just as a broader member of our fine fraternity.

  6. Luke says:

    You are not the first to suggest a link between artistic sensibilities and cycling. In “One more kilometre and we’re in the showers” (a book on cycling/racing/autobiography I think you’d like), Tim Hilton (an art critic and keen cyclist) notes that a high proportion of (amateur) bike racers are artists. He speculates whether this shows the fine sensitivities of bike racers. He then notes the similarly high proportion of postmen (who finish work early) and reluctantly concludes that having plenty of free time might be more of a factor.

  7. Grant says:

    The sidewalks in front of Toronto’s OCAD (ontario college of art and design) are packed with bikes. It has to be one of the most dense areas of the city for bikes on the street, despite no infrastructure, they choose to ride and be connected to their city.

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