Aristotelian syllogisms and Plato's ideas, as required in a bike blog.

Here’s a syllogism to stimulate your brain.

Major premise: we want everyone cycling! That’s because cycling performs three miracles at the same time, by 1. reducing the amount of time people spend moving between places of work, school and leisure, 2. by vaccinating populations against chronic disease, and 3. by reducing greenhouse emissions.

Minor premise: new urban districts keep being built! Whether through sprawling, thickening, backfilling, the building of satellite districts or by building new cities from scratch, there are always new streets and privately owned lots being produced.

Inference: we need to conceptualise new ways of developing cities that will encourage people to choose cycling over all other modes. 

Experts in other fields might see different inferences, like removing financial incentives to drive or use transit, or introducing laws to make drivers slow down. I’m an architect though. The inference I see relates to the production of space.

Historically, when new circumstances have occasioned a need for new building types, the most common response has been to take a known type, and adapt it. The adaptation of the basilica form to make the first churches in Rome is one good example.


The idea of starting from scratch when inventing particular plan forms to match particular functions arose during the enlightenment, when, for example, Jeremy Bentham invented the Panopticon prison, and Claude Nicolas Ledoux pioneered the notion of architecture parlante, or “speaking architecture”, with some funny results: this was his idea for a brothel.


When it comes to new building types, architectural inventiveness seems to rise in proportion to social upheaval. With the shift to socialism in Russia architects abruptly stopped with the symmetrical palaces and invented new types, for example the “social condenser”, a building where the sleeping, eating and spaces for child care would make it impossible to know whose children were whose. Ginzburg and Milimis’s Narkomfin House is the most famous example. It was designed to destroy the tradition of inherited wealth.


You can read an annotated bibliography about types theory in architecture, consult a neat glossary, or bust your brain with one of Anthony Vidler’s ludicrous attempts to use English (see p. 437). Let me provide you a shortcut to all of that busy work by telling you that all theories of types are in some way a kind of footnote to Plato. The most intriguing, to me, are the footnotes like Quatremère de Quincy’s way back in 1825, that agree with Plato entirely. I wrote my PhD dissertation on a very similar theory of types from 1960 that came from the mouth of that overrated Neoplatonist charlatan Louis I. Kahn.


While completely untenable, it is fascinating all the same to imagine there is a transcendent recipe for every classifiable type of building that might ever come into existence. Imagine for example that the ideal teleportation centre already exists. The Hospital for Raising all The World’s Dead likewise might exist as an idea, just waiting for the day when the technology comes into being to bring every dead person back and  we need buildings to cope with the chaos that will no doubt unleash.


We can leave it to future generations of architects to grapple with the idea of a zombie apocalypse processing unit. Our generation has the task of realising the ideal bicycling city, both at the macro and micro scales. If we think about the problem philosophically, we would realise that Amsterdam or Copenhagen are no better models than the basilica was an ideal model for Christian churches. All that can be said for these old cities that organically grew around walking, is some of them have been nicely adapted for cycling. However, what I’m interested in, is the actual bicycle city. The bicycle city itself. The irreducible essence of a bicycle city. No, I don’t believe that transcendent ideals actually exist. I’m more like Plato, who simply imagined the existence of Forms, or Ideas, as a first step toward thinking more clearly. The sliding images at the top of my blog link to visions that I like to think of as purely Rationalistic in their derivation, with no debt to empirical models.


  1. James says:

    I do not agree with your proposed miracle number 1. The reason being that my personal experience has shown it not to be true.
    However, I’m sure there are some situations where it might be true.
    In addition to your three miracles of bicycling, I’d like to add a fourth. Riding a bicycle saves money for you and the economy. Riding a bicycle makes us all a little better off.

    • crank says:

      Not that I necessarily disagree, James, however, consider an environment where you don’t have the regular obstructions caused by other modes. For instance, imagine some of your trips without traffic lights, and needing to follow the round-a-bout ‘bike route’ rather than a direct route. Cities built to ‘bike-scale’ could be quite different to our ‘car-scale’ environment now. IMO, car-scale is not as well matched to ‘human scale’ as bike-scale is. (In fact I work on scalable technology systems; cars seem like an unnecessarily ‘heavy weight process’ to me, resulting in an over-engineered and difficult to scale system.)

  2. kfg says:

    “We can leave it to future generations of architects to grapple with the idea of a zombie apocalypse processing unit.”
    Mossberg 500.
    “The irreducible essence of a bicycle city.”
    Streets too narrow for cars.

    • Steven says:

      Not sure what a mossberg is? As to narrow streets, yes and no. Yes, we need streets that cars can’t squeeze into. But we need width so apartments have outlooks and access to daylight. Designs I’m working on have streets that thwart cars in other ways.

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