If Henry Ford were reincarnated as a bike maker, Le Corbusier as an architect of buildings and cities for bikes, and Robert Moses as their bike-loving ally in government, today’s bike plans would be far more ambitious in scope. Ford would be aiming to sell billions of bikes, Corb would be wanting to save the whole world, and, even if it took him a lifetime, Moses would be aiming to leave a permanent mark.
They would want to give bicycle transport a leg-up, like the leg-up the motorcar received from farmlands being opened for suburban development. So who are our modern-day, bicycle-loving Le Corbusiers? And what, exactly, is their task?
In any era, the preoccupations architects share with planners stem from whatever mode of transportation is on everyone’s minds. The Cooper Union Professor of Architecture, Anthony Vidler, describes the first half of the twentieth-century as a period when architecture derived its authority from machines; if we read Le Corbusier, we see ships and airplanes, but most often cars.
Designers were fascinated by cars for at least forty years, beginning with Le Corbusier’s 1925 plan to rebuild much of Paris, with towers in a park and sunken freeways. Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Buckminster Fuller and others designed car-centric buildings, and even some cars themselves, at a time when mass car ownership, freeways and sprawl, were still only fantasies.
Designers are at a similar juncture with their thinking about cycling today. Today it is mass bicycle transport that is a fantasy, but that doesn’t stop architects – including Ron Arad, West-8, Carlo Ratti, Bill Dunster, NL Architects, Atelier BowWow and Bjarke Ingels – from designing bike-centric buildings, and even some bikes.
I don’t necessarily have a dog in this hunt since I don’t bike as much as I should, but I think it’s an interesting argument, particularly given what I consider to be the overreaction against big central planning throughout society.