30 September 2008


That's right, this past weekend was Chicago's first ever Urban Assault Bike Ride! I must say, having experienced it first hand, the even was an enormous success. Chicago was the last of eight cities to participate in the ride's 2008 season, drawing over 500 riders to an innovative scavenger hunt/ bike race through the city and a rockin' after party.

The Urban Assault ride was created in Austin, Texas by creative bike enthusiasts. The goal of the event is to show urbanites how easy and fun it is to use a bike for transportation. In each city the ride travels to, it works with a local non-profit bike advocacy group to encourage citizens to ride their bikes more often. The event consists of teams of two bikers racing around the city to nine different checkpoints, completing a set task, and trying to be the first to make it to the finish line. Competitors must use their mental wit and knowledge as well as pedal power; riders are given a list of checkpoints, but no set route is specified. It is up to each team to determine a race strategy, ride safely, and not get lost navigating busy city streets. The ride is open to anyone with a bike, helmet, partner, and desire to explore. A fun and adventurous mix of riders got on their bikes Sunday, with participants ranging from young to old, athletes to tourists, road racers to extravagantly costumed partiers; this event managed to unite a diverse group of people and proved to be a great time for all.

I volunteered to help run the event, and was stationed at one of nine checkpoints throughout the city. Our checkpoint witnessed many intense riders, colorful costumes, and even one dramatic fight between partners. One of the best aspects of this race was the way it involved the surrounding neighborhood. As teams raced through our checkpoint, a gathering of bystanders grew; pictures were taken, laughs were shared. Perhaps most importantly, everyone noticed how much fun competitors were having biking around the city. Passerby began asking what was going on, who were these crazy people?

Which is when the beneficiary of the race, West Town Bikes, began to get some well deserved exposure. West Town Bikes is a non profit bike advocacy group here in Chicago. Their team helps get children and adults on their bikes and comfortable riding in the city streets. They provide lessons in bike repair and maintenance as well as helping underprivileged children to get on bikes and ride. WTB is accommodating to anyone with a desire to bike, I encourage you to check out their website and programs at westtownbikes.org.

At the conclusion of the race, we all gathered to celebrate those who participated and enjoy some great burritos and brews together. There's not much better of a way to start your day than with beer, bikes, and big wheels. I will keep you all posted when the 2009 Urban Assault season begins!

24 September 2008

Get on your Bike and Ride!

I for one am already incredibly excited for this weekend. Life doesn't get much better than a virtually perfect weather forecast and bike events galore! In honor of this excitement, I have decided to feature today a contraption that always boggles my mind. Often refered to as 'freakbikes', 'mutantbikes', or my personal choice of terminology, the 'frankinbike', enthusiasts have been taking old junkers and piecing them together in somewhat absurd ways for almost as long as bicycles themselves have been around.

My favorite frankinbike is known as the 'double-decker bike', also referred to as a 'tall bike'. Everytime I see one of these contraptions, I can't help but think, "wow, what kind of crazy adventurous fool first came up with this idea?"

As, you can see a double-decker is constructed from two old bikes, one artfully mounted atop another, usually by welding or brazing. This really is a combination of my two loves, biking and architecture. These bikes always amaze me, usually first for their somewhat outlandish and dangerous appearance, but also for their simple and elegant beauty and construction.

Although, the modern day finds these bikes coveted by hipsters wishing to stand out from the crowd, the design was actually created as a practical one. One of the first uses of the tall bike was as a late 1800s lamp lighting system! Workers would mount this contraption equipped with a torch for lighting gas lamps. The worker would then proceed from lamp to lamp, leaning against the lamp post to light the lamp, and then riding to the next. Upon completing the circuit of lamps, an assistant would help the rider dismount.

I can't explain to you how to ride one of these gems, for I myself would never risk my life atop such a contraption. I can say that modern double-decker riders do not travel with assistants, but rather serve as acrobats of sorts, leaping to and from their seats in the sky. If you attend any of the biking events this weekend, you are sure to see a few tall bikes out there; after all, they are hard to miss.

As a preview for the coming fun, Critical Mass takes place on Friday and will meet in Daley plaza around 6 PM, come one come all. CM is a free event open to anyone will wheels! Also this weekend, the Urban Assault bike ride comes to Chicago! This ride takes place Sunday morning, and riders must register as part of a two person team and pay an entry fee. However, you will be rewarded with tons of cool shwag, a wild and crazy race, and a free after party involving beer and burritos! All of this plus, plus proceeds benefiting local bikers, makes Sunday a great day to GET ON YOU BIKE AND RIDE!

Check back for my updates on these events, and more to come, and while your at it, click over to qbike.com for all of your biking needs. I have just signed on as a contributing writer for the site, and will be doling out advice for all you commuters out there!

23 September 2008

An Ode To Herzog & de Meuron...56 Leonard Street

Herzog & de Meuron....How do I love thee....let me count the ways.....well 145 to be exact, which is the number of residences that will make up the firm's first ever high rise commission, set to be completed in New York City's Tribeca Historic District in late 2010.

Details of the buildings form, function, and intent are described quite elegantly in a recent Dezeen article,

Although I have already stumbled across a few critics of this design, HdM are sure to set skyscraper history with the tower's innovative design.

Ok, I do have to admit, from this vantage point, the building takes on the appearance of what could be described as a giant bundle of scaffolding. Perhaps not the refined elegance HdM pride themselves on.

However, as one delves deeper into the design, the seemingly haphazard stacking of form unfolds to reveal an intricate and complex weaving of architectural solid and void. The architects embrace the simple desire to give each residence a unique floor plan and private outdoor space, multiply that concept by 145, and equate a 57 story residential condominium which HdM describe as "houses stacked in the sky".

With this bold design, HdM are set to redefine the iconic American skyscraper. Through an artful stacking of form, possibly best described as the largest scale Jenga ever created, the image of a skyscraper as a hermetically sealed, impenetrable object has been shattered into literally 145 individual and unique homes, open and exposed to the city around them.

Articulated surfaces, dramatic cantilevers, profiled slab edges, profusion of balconies, expanses of glass, and views from downtown Manhattan to as far as the Atlantic Ocean.......oh my! I for one cannot stop ogling this fascinating design. Perhaps I am a bit biased due to my somewhat inexplicable fascination with multi-family living. I did just finish a master's thesis dealing with the issue of preserving the qualities of single family living in a multi-family environment. I too devised a system of stacking and twisting forms, only to soon become exasperated and overwhelmed by this daunting task. Of course, HdM immediately comes along and beautifully articulates this thought in massive scale, right in the heart of Manhattan! Perhaps it is time to admit a feeling I have had for awhile, Herzog de Meuron are much more worthy than I.

Alas, all that is left for us Chicagoans to do now is admire these photographs, and grow continually jealous of the rich and famous New Yorkers who will someday inhabit this gem. I for one have decided to immediatly start saving my pennies in hopes to one day reach the $3.5 million to $33 million price tag on the condos, which range in size from 1,430 square feet to 6,380 square feet, and will include two- to five-bedroom residences and 10 penthouses.

I did gain a small fracture in my "New Yorkers have it all" rant, when I came across this familiar image.

That's right Chicagoans, artist Anish Kapoor has created a younger brother for our beloved bean. The sculpture will make its home at a prominent corner on the lot, drawing public crowds in a further attempt to integrate the building with the public community. It will be the artists first permanent public work in New York City.

I encourage you to check out the Dezeen article mentioned above for futher details of the design. I, however, will leave you with this thought from Jacques Herzog, referring to artist Andy Warhol, “He used common Pop images to say something new. That is exactly what we are interested in: to use well known forms and materials in a new way so that they become alive again.”

From a firm that has achieved just that thought through recent works like the Beijing bird's nest, the San Francisco de Young museum, and London's Tate Modern, HdM have now set the stage for urban centers around the world, providing the fuel and innovation needed to enter a new era of design.

22 September 2008

Happy Anniversary Daniel!

The year 2009 will mark the 100 year anniversary of the plan for Chicago, written by Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett back in 1909 for the Commercial club of Chicago. Nearly 100 years later, Chicago has grown into a vibrant metropolis of more than eight million people, miles of bike paths, and a myriad of option to enjoy the great outdoors close to home.

Often credited with creating the field of urban design, Burham and Bennett had dreams of Chicago surpassing its industrial past and soaring into a new realm of city living. With their revolutionary and bold design, they forever changed the way Chicagoans live and view their city.

Thanks in large part to Chicago's active government and many non-for profit environmental groups, the city has consistently ranked as one of the top ten greenest cities in America in many polls taken in the 21st century. Chicago has many strong political leaders to thank for its ever growing ecological trend. However, nearly 100 years ago, before it was 'hip to be green', it was Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett who set the stage for Chicago to become the environmentally friendly metropolis it is today. Their plan was fueled by the belief that every person deserved access to usable and enjoyable outdoor space. They made public space available throughout the city and set up a system of public transit and green pathways to dictate the flow of inevitable suburban sprawl and growth.

So aside from the fact that this plan produced the city we all know and love today, what tangible evidence can one observe while celebrating this anniversary?

As we head towards this momentous occasion, I encourage all Chicagoans to get out and celebrate all that the Burnham plan has provided us. Let's name a few:

_ The Chicago Lakefront_ Burnham envisioned a continuous string of shoreline parks stretching from the far south side all the way to Wilmette. As a former Chicago Beach Lifeguard, I admit even I take this for granted. In how many cities can one run marathon distances while constantly being surrounded by the beauty of both nature and man made skyscrapers. Get down to the lakefront and revel with the runners, walkers, bikers, skaters, etc. before winter rears its ugly face!

_ The Magnificent Mile_The plan called for the extension of North Michigan avenue over the Chicago river, setting up the prominent street to become the thriving shopping district it is today.

_Navy Pier_ The plan actually called for two parallel recreational piers to be built for Chicagoans to enjoy, only one was built, and has since developed into a tourist draw and quintessential image of Chicago.

_Grant Park_ Before Burnham stepped in, this now beautiful park was just an uninviting strip of land along Michigan Avenue. The plan called for railroad tracks blocking access to the lake to be depressed underground, allowing the park to extend another 300 feet farther east. Get out and enjoy one of the parks many activities or concerts today!
These are just a few of the great amenities brought to the city of Chicago as a result of Burnham's plan. However, now 100 years old, the city is in need of a little face lift. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Chicago Architectural Club, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Burnham Plan Centennial Committee are a few of the organizations planning events, shows, and competitions in order to both honor and gather ideas for improving the original plan.
The city has already formed goals to fill gaps in the lakefront with new beaches and parks as well as gaps in the region's suburban trails and green ways. Goals have been made to double the city's use of public transit and a competition is in motion to convert Union Station into a high-speed rail hub.
So, thank you Daniel for providing Chicago with an excellent base for success and making history through your unique visions. But, get ready Chicagoans for the next 100 years, sure to again transform our city and build upon urban success to meet the needs of a modern society.

21 September 2008

Life Without Buildings

So you may be asking yourself why you are reading a blog you thought was to deal with architecture and urbanism, yet the very first post is titled 'Life Without Buildings'. Well, let me explain. I thought I would start this journey off with a simple story about a conversation between friends that occurred last night after a few brews at a local establishment.

First, a side note must be made that I am on a constant quest to discover the perfect title for my first big book deal (coming soon). Many of these may be ridiculous, however I firmly believe they will all be wildly popular, so don't get any ideas of stealing these gems and slandering my epiphany of the day.

Ok, on to the story. I believe this idea first came to me while looking around at a particularly disjointed crowd one afternoon while riding the El somewhere. I thought to myself, "why is it that some people seem to be having the time of their life while trapped in this metal transport device while the person sitting next to them appears as if their dog just died?" Which led to a long 'train' of thought as to how my fellow travelers and I all ended up in this train car together, at the moment all going in the same direction, yet clearly each on a distinctly individual path.

So, fast forward a few weeks to a group of friends at a friendly neighborhood pub. After a few beers, I thought it appropriate to yell, 'hey did you guys ever think about how our lives would be different if all these buildings weren't here?' To my surprise, one of my friends took me up on the philosophical debate, and we spent a good deal of the next hour pondering how buildings tend to blur into the background of our daily lives, yet in their own quiet way really dictate nearly everything we do in daily life.

As you can tell, I can ramble on about such topics pretty much endlessly, which is what I intend to do through the use of this handy little blog. I hope to delve into some actual facts and knowledge about this great city and the others I intend to experience in the future. However, often I will just spout my own theories about 'post-institutionalized' life. Often (as you can tell) my ramblings will contain disjointed theories and random facts and ideas I come across from day to day. Basically, I graduated from college, and miss theorizing about mundane things all the time. Who's with me?