Cycling is certainly taking the world by storm, with many major cities adopting a cycle-centric transportation culture that could match (and in some cases, exceed) the Netherlandish tradition. With clear benefits for minimising our environmental impact, our urban spaces and the broader physiological health of our population, cycling’s impact upon the full spectrum of modern life is all-too-often underestimated. Recently, large scale investments by the Federal Government into cycle lanes, public share bicycles and cycling safety awareness programmes have actively contributed to the life and longevity of many Australian cities – with New South Wales and Victoria dedicating on average a staggering $37million to creating and improving cycleways throughout their respective capitals.
For many, the environmental, financial and physiological benefits of a cycle-centric culture are significant. For a smaller few, a cycle-centric mindset has also been shown to demonstrate clear benefits for our combined architectural and design culture, too. As Herman Miller’s ‘Design Rides’ series with Rapha continues to travel across the world, we recently joined the Melbourne leg of this ‘tour d’architecture’ to get a truly different perspective on Melbourne’s most-prized architectural feats of brilliance.
With more than sixty joining the ride, intrepid cyclists were treated to a total immersion in the city’s rich design history. Here we catch up with keen cyclist and Principal of Warren and Mahoney, Richard Weinman, to get a behind-the-spokes glance at the tradition of design innovation that has ensured the city be recognised as the ‘Most Liveable In The World’ for seven years running.
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David Congram, Indesign: The Herman Miller Design Ride through Melbourne takes cyclists on an architectural journey of the city. From your perspective, what were a few of the design narratives that cyclists saw on the ride that Melbourne is not normally recognised for?Richard Weinman, Warren and Mahoney: The ride starts with a visit to Docklands and Mark Stoner’s sculpture ‘A River Runs Through It’ which suggests an underlying history and flow of natural habitat under the weight of current development. This sets the theme for the ride which is about understanding how narratives of architecture, sculpture and urban design combine to imbue Melbourne with its unique character.
DC: With respect to Melbourne’s celebrated architecture, where in particular do you see the synergy between Melbourne’s design imagination and that of Herman Miller’s?
RW: Herman Miller is a company synonymous with human centred problem solving design with timeless outcomes. This is an ideal that has always resonated with me. As an architect working in Melbourne I feel strongly about designing environments where a sense of place and identity matters. The Herman Miller Design Ride was very much about showcasing buildings that reflected these ideals while enjoying an adventure … and looking damn good on your bike!
DC: I understand that while curating the ride, the trip was very much inspired by Robin Boyd’s Victorian Modern. Can you tell me a little bit about why that work is still so influential for Australian architecture and design?
RW: Victorian Modern was published in 1947 and set out Boyd’s vision for the next generation of Australian architecture. The Walsh Street House, completed in 1959, represents a distillation of this vision and is one the finest examples of the International Style pioneered by Robin Boyd in Australia alongside a strong field of contemporaries such as Roy Grounds and Harry Seidler. There are so many reference points that set the mindset for modern architecture in this house. The seamless working of outdoor and indoor space, the daring draped roof form and the playfulness of the interiors resonate to this day.
DC: It’s interesting that you make note of the International Style that really characterises Melbourne’s architecture typologies. And yet, one of the more recent typologies emerging seems to be the seamless blending of old and new architectural modes. From the sites visited along the ride, do you think this blending of old and new is something that still influences Melbourne’s orientation to design?
RW: A lot of recent development in Melbourne is from a ‘look at me’ school of architecture which has eschewed context in lieu of statement. The ride purposely avoided these buildings and visited some masterful works of modern architecture that, while being proudly of their own time, enhanced the buildings they sit in context with. A prime example for me is the Melbourne Museum which exists as a perfectly dramatic insertion next to the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens.
DC: Melbourne has been frequently cited as ‘the world’s most liveable city’. In fact, it’s won the title for seven years in a row! How do you see the city’s architecture and design elements supporting this accolade?
RW: Melbourne has so many positive facets to its architecture and urban design that visitors and locals instinctively respond to it. The tight laneway culture, the elegance of our Victorian era buildings sitting in juxtaposition with challenging pieces of modern architecture. These moments mark an emerging world city that is respectful of its past but ambitious and forward thinking, in my opinion.
DC: For you personally, what were a few of the standout locations you visited on the ride?
RW: I naturally gravitate towards buildings that contribute equal measures of architecture, art and urban design into the city fabric. The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art emerges as a sculpture out of a desert-like landscape and is a cool building to ride around and through. I like the stains of graffiti removal. To me they represent a trademark, or tattoo, of our culture. I also like the fact that Ron Robertson-Swann’s sculpture, The Vault (also known variously as The Yellow Peril, The Thing, Steelhenge) has found an appropriate home on the grounds.
DC: Do you think, then, that these icons receive the attention they truly deserve?
RW: To me a piece of iconic architecture is a building that simply blows you away when you stand in front of it or in it. I might cop some flack for expressing this viewpoint but I feel that Melbourne hasn’t produced that building yet. To me Melbourne is a city of quieter moments which is why it works so successfully at a human scale.
DC: If you had to select one word only to describe Melbourne’s architectural drama, which word would that be?
DC: And of all the locations visited for the Herman Miller X Rapha ‘Melbourne Modern’ ride, how were the landmarks received, and what in particular really captured the imagination of the intrepid cyclists?
RW: I must say I did gulp with nervousness when I saw the number riders who turned up. Some enlightening fashion choices and a welcome reduction of lycra. It was fantastic to see enthusiasm of the riding and design community for a fresh perspective on the city. What I particularly enjoyed was hearing all the conversation behind me. Connections made and stories told. The Walsh Street house was the obvious highlight. Many comments I received were related to the route we took and the fact that many people had never ridden some of the sections. Those discoveries are what cycling a city is all about.
DC: With respect to perspective, how does cycling through the city offer us a new vantage on Melbourne’s architectural heritage?
RW: Like all great cities, so many of Melbourne’s unique buildings must be discovered. My favourite byproduct of being a cyclist is the exploration that inevitably leads to discovering a new inspirational building, a shop, or a place to eat. Riding a bike allows you to experience the city with a greater sense of the space around you. I particularly enjoy the fact that you can cover a lot of territory and obtain a sense of context very quickly.
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