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Thursday
Sep292011

Bike Lots & City Blocks

The design mavens who work at Columbia College are fond of referring to the school’s collective sensibility as “the grit and the glamour.” Columbia not only embraces a quirky juxtaposition of fabulous design within a gritty urban context – it celebrates it.

So it goes with the design of Columbia’s newest amenity: a bike parking lot.

First, a bit of history. The property, located at the corner of S. Wabash and E. 8th Street, was the home of iconic Chicago blues club Buddy Guy’s Legends. Columbia bought the property and incorporated the site into its campus master plan. Once Legends moved into its new location, Columbia demolished the old two-story building.

Gensler worked with Columbia to create a design for the bike lot that’s not just practical and economical, but also whimsical, according to Elva Rubio, design leader for Gensler’s North Central region. “The culture of biking is overtaking urban centers in America,” she says. “This particular installation celebrates bicycles as spectacle.”

The bike lot does what a bike lot should, which is accommodate several bicycles (162 to be exact) within a relatively secure environment (in this case, an enclosure of chain link fencing). But the quirkiness is in the execution: One side of the site features an undulating expanse of fencing festooned with several hundred recycled bike reflectors.

"The goal was to employ some cost-effective and sustainable ways to convert an unused parcel into a functional parking lot with an artistic edge," said Joe Leamanczyk, a project manager with Columbia’s Office of Campus Environment.

Once the lot was constructed, several folks from Gensler’s Chicago office (including yours truly) teamed up with the client for a “reflector party.” Using exterior-grade adhesive and a bit of creative placement, we glued those hundreds of reflectors directly to the chain link fence. Every. Single. One.

The result, especially in the glow of passing headlights, is a glowing “wall” of light. Gritty? Definitely. But arguably the most glamorous bike lot you’ve seen in a while.

Michael Hanley is a designer in the education practice at Gensler’s Chicago office and has a background in journalism. He’s interested in the unique design opportunities presented by urban college campuses such as Columbia College Chicago, and finding innovative ways to connect higher learning institutions with speculative development enterprises. Contact him at michael_hanley@gensler.com

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