Craft, Beauty, Materials, Local

Craft, beauty, materials, local — these are all words of the moment — but we rarely see them in media stories about architecture, which emphasize shiny glass curtain walls assembled from thousands of identical pieces as mechanically as possible. The walls, by the way, are manufactured in China and shipped to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai, Dubai, London, New York, and Houston.

That’s what I thought of when I saw these new bicycle stands in Charleston, South Carolina from the craftsman at the American College of Building Arts and the architects Bevan & Liberatos. There’s more information about that here.

BL Bicycle Drawing

After the jump, the opposite approach:

The photo below shows a bike rack and subway grate made during the Bloomberg administration. It has its virtues, including keeping water out of the subway. It’s not ugly, but it’s probably only beautiful for those who think design must be “innovative” (see “Innovative” — the most overused word in architecture today?). And it suffers from what some of the design the Bloomberg administration promoted suffers from: a lack of craft, ugly materials, placeless design, and a lack of human scale. It is clearly an object designed on a computer screen with CAD, in a process that can easily obliterate scale. That’s part of the reason why we see 90-story towers that look like origami miniatures, and part of the reason why there has been so little thought given to craft and construction in a lot of recent design. In a building like the Empire State Building or the Woolworth Building, craft and construction were part of what gave the tower human scale as you got close to them.

There are great CAD designs, of course. None of Frank Gehry’s recent buildings could have been built without CAD. But the way many architects use CAD today deemphasizes construction and scale in favor of parametric shapes that can be dialed up and down and used for a tea pot or a tower. It all looks the same on the computer screen.

And then the drawing is shipped off to China, which is the same as putting the design into a black box and waiting for it to come out the other end.


This entry was posted in Architecture, Beauty, Bicycle, Craft, Current, Global, Good Kind, Local, Materials, New York. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Craft, Beauty, Materials, Local

  1. Lynn Ellsworth says:

    I profoundly wish these (the ones with the Odeon in the back) off the streets of my neighborhood.

  2. Doug Klotz says:

    The Charleston racks, while perhaps nice blacksmithing, are only marginal at their function as being a place to lock your bicycle. There seems to have been no attention paid to providing the points necessary to lock the seat post and rear wheel with a U-lock. They also seem pretty lightweight in the theft-prevention category. None of the photos actually seem to show a bike locked to the rack. They also probably will be afflicted with the ills of many “decorative” bike racks, in that users didn’t know those were actually supposed to be bike racks. Not that the New York examples are beautiful, either, but they look more like a place to lock a bike, have points where you can lock to, and are sturdier.

    • Thanks, Doug. I’m sending your comment to the designers of the Charleston rack so they can respond.

    • Thanks, Doug – you raise good points. With regard to robustness, it is extraordinarily robust, and even the decorative portion is sized as structural in section. Wrought iron isn’t used when all you need is decorative ornament; wrought iron is used when you need some badass robust metal things that keep out marauding hordes and hurricane debris, and when done well becomes decoratively beautiful, too. The decorative pattern also provides multiple points for locks – that’s the point – and the lower horizontal rails do, too. You should see the alternatives that are going up! They are neither robust nor convenient nor generous in their locking points, nor beautiful, and when they do get beaten up, they look worse, whereas wrought iron keeps its charm while taking a beating. We designed these for bicyclists as bicyclists, and we think it harms our cause as bicyclists to spread ugly and cheap racks throughout our cities. Bicycle racks and stands should be serious and beautiful pieces of street furniture, and, ideally, locally made in a craft for which the place is known and in a style that suits the character of the place. Still, we will watch for the potential problems that you are right to raise. By the way, do you happen to have what you consider to be an ideal design, in terms of function, for a two-bike stand? Perhaps we could take your ideal locking points positions and/or general layout and turn it into something that can be hand-made by local craftsmen and beautiful, too. Please feel free to get in touch! We love collaboration.

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