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A Classy Commute – the Architect

23 Aug

In 1996, Seán Harrington quit his job as architect in London for a job as architect in Dublin. In London he had always cycled to work, and he decided to keep that habit in Dublin.

On the first day in his new office, Seán locked his bike to the railing in front of the office. By noon, three colleagues had suggested he move his bike to the back. A bike in the front could give the wrong impression – clients might think this office business was in financial distress.

Seán did not quite follow.

Being attached to cycling, he didn’t understand his Dublin colleagues’ frowns. Seán had moved to Germany at an early age; and growing up in continental Europe made him fall in love with cycling. He loved cycling for the same reason he loved skiing; his other continental pastime. He saw cycling as the summer version of skiing — both require plotting a curve, looking ahead, swerving and following through, and both give the same joy children have on a merry go round. Who could not like that?

Also, Seán didn’t understand his Dublin colleagues from a professional perspective. As an architect, Seán had always aimed for simplicity, trying reorganise cluttered compounds and swanky structures into spaces that make sense like a mathematical equation – to the point where he chose Dublin over London because there was more to reorganise. His affection for simplicity and sustainability is also the reason he likes bicycles; nothing beats the straightforward functional style of a black retro bicycle, and getting around in the city is free and fast. Why didn’t his colleagues feel the same?

So two years after arriving in Dublin, Seán resigned and set up his own architectural practice. He started off by giving his employees expenses for every mile they cycled to meetings (at the same rate as cars). Then, he started using cycling as a marketing tool.

As a result, Seán’s practice has by now worked on a series of prestigious projects: the Tallaght cycle way (winner of the Best Public Space award), the Sutton to Sandycove cycle way (Europe’s longest cycle way, with a boardwalk that doubles as a flood defense mechanism), and the New Liffey Bridge (with dedicated cycleway) for the LUAS connector line.

In the end, Seán’s cycle has come full circle.


A Classy Commute – Illustrator Chris Judge

20 Jul

Chris is an illustrator. He cycles a 1980s racer bike and he cycles it fast.

On his way to work, he swooshes past Drumcondra’s high trees, slaloms downhill through Dorset Street’s traffic, leaps over the Liffey, and finally keeps to the Quays until he arrives at his studio, on the top floor of a Dame Street building.

There, with high windows that overlook City Hall, Chris closes his eyes and replays his cycling trip as if he was reading a comic book. When he opens them, he goes to work and characters take shape faster than his hand and pen can keep up.

Chris’ characters will vary; depending on the weather, the traffic, and Chris’ mood. But always, they will want to explore and venture into the unknown.

In Chris’ first book (‘The Lonely Beast’), a monster that looks like a huggable black Christmas tree arrives on earth and – even though the humans are kind to him, feed him donuts, and invite him on talk shows – sets out to explore the world, hoping to find a friend that looks like him. Chris’ second book (‘the Great Explorer’ – to be published next February) has a similar theme: a young kid sets out on a mission to save his Dad who got stuck on the North Pole. Even in his near-scientific work for the Science Gallery in Trinity, where artists have created illustrations for each element in the periodic table, Chris has created adventurous purple characters that represent the element Xenon.

Chris’ latest work is a co-production with his girlfriend Cliona (whom we interviewed two weeks ago and who told us she gets more inspiration from cycling than Van Gogh got from sunflowers). Together, they filmed the music video for Lisa Hannigan’s new song ‘Safe Travels’. Chris and Cliona have created a video in a 1950s Irish setting, in which a person uses all modes of transport to get from East to West.

Cliona and Chris quickly agreed there should be a bike in that music video as well.

Now if only they could agree whether it should be a ladies bike, or a 1980s racer.

A Classy Commute – Adriaan Waiboer, Curator for the National Gallery Ireland

13 Jul

Adriaan Waiboer, curator for the National Gallery Ireland (© Photographer: Roy Hewson)

Adriaan Waiboer is curator for the National Gallery Ireland. Adriaan holds a  New York University PhD; he has received fellowships to do research at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and at the National Gallery of Art in Washington; and he has won various awards and distinctions for his work. In short: Adriaan knows a thing or two about art.

The fact that he’s Dutch, means he also knows a thing or two about cycling. His knowledge of art and cycling recently landed Adriaan a job in Bear Bicycles’ Cycling Art Jury for a competition to win a Dutch bike.

Win a bike - competition

However, Adriaan’s life abroad has made him lose some Dutch traits. Adriaan does still cycle to work like a Dutchman. However, there is nothing Dutch about his cycling-attire. Adriaan is – in his own words – “a MAMIL; a Middle Aged Man In Lycra”. Where a Dutchman would cycle in his regular clothes, Adriaan wears a shiny spandex suit. In his defence: he does ride a racer, and his commute from Bray to the National Gallery is over 20 km.

Adriaan has also unlearned his Dutch habit of planning months ahead. As a specialist in Dutch Old Masters, Adriaan deals with Dutch colleagues on a regular basis. Only recently did Adriaan discover he does not share his fellow countrymen’s devotion to setting up schedules and spreadsheets, memo’s and meetings. The Dutchman in Adriaan still likes to plan ahead, but his time in Ireland has also shown him how too much planning kills originality. Adriaan’s initial difficulty with Irish inability to plan ahead, has given way to the view that the Irish approach can also produce nimble problem solvers.

Adriaan hasn’t completely lost touch with his Dutch roots, though.

When our talk was over, we informed Adriaan we would be meeting in September (i.e. two months after the interview) to at the Summer Cyclin Celebration party we are organising.

Adriaan said he was happy to attend.

He also pressed us to send on the exact date, because his calendar for September was quickly filling up.

A Classy Commute –with Photographer Cliona O’Flaherty

9 Jul

South Studio Dublin, situated on 27/28 New Row South, is a hub for bicycle aficionado’s. In a previous blog item, we interviewed Aisling Farinella – a fashion stylist who works in that Studio. It turns out Aisling shares her office with Cliona O’Flaherty – a talented photographer who can recall every bicycle she ever rode.

Cliona’s first bike was a chrome BMX. Cliona got it for her 8th birthday from her mother, who had bought it off Cliona’s older brother for 40 pounds. Cliona and her BMX were like an American outlaw and his horse. Cliona has been that close with each one of her bikes since; the purple mountain bike she bought with hard earned cash, or the vintage bronze Hercules bike her Dad bought for her at Cash Converters when that purple mountain bike was stolen.

Bikes and trees - photo by Cliona

Today, Cliona cycles a traditional black Falcon Westminster bike. In the weekdays, she uses it to get from her house in Drumcondra to South Studios. The trip gives her inspiration for work; on a bike, she can see people up close and that gives her ideas for portraits. Cliona also does a lot of food photography, but she can’t say whether she is inspired by the hamburger modeled bell on her steering wheel, or by the Otto Lenghi dishes she is so fond of. Her fondness of bikes has – in itself – also helped for some photo shoots with bikes in it.

In this shot: Cliona's own Falcon Westminster. With a wicker basket.

In the weekends, Cliona and her boyfriend Chris Judge (an illustrator who’s also into cycling) cycle down Drumcondra’s tree lined Griffith Avenue to the coast line. At the Bull Wall they park their bikes, go for a short swim, after which they lie flat on one of the large sun warmed stones that protect Dublin from the incoming waves. Sometimes, they continue their cycle to Sutton, or even Howth. It is the best way to escape from work.

Or actually; it was the best way to escape from work. Because on a recent cycle trip, Cliona and Chris came up with their first creative co-production. As a result, Cliona and Chis produced a short film called the ‘Lonely Beast’ (on show in the IFI on July 17th). Now, the couple is already working on their second co-production: Lisa Hannigan’s new music video.

Sometimes work is just too good to escape.

inspired by cycling - Cliona's work on rocks along Dublin's coast

Portrait by Cliona: inspired by cycling

Inspired by cycling: photo by Cliona.

A Classy Commute – Thomas Pedoussaut

20 May

The day he turned three, Thomas Pedoussaut got a small bike with training wheels. When he broke one of the training wheels in a childhood tantrum, his parents told him they weren’t going to replace it and that he would have to learn cycling without them. However, Thomas had gotten used to the stability of the training wheels and refused cycling without them. ‘Le jour de mes quatre ans’ (‘The day I turn four’), Thomas told his parents, would be the day he’d get back on the bike. And with that he went off to play in the garden.

For a year, Thomas went without cycling and his parents watched their son grow up without his new bike. Then on his fourth birthday, Thomas got back on the bike – just like he said he would.

It took him some time to learn how to keep himself stable and upright – the short experience with the training wheels had let him get away with unrealistic slow pedaling, slouching on his saddle and wobbling from one training wheel to the other like a rocking arm pump. But once he figured out all he needed was a bit of speed, Thomas never wanted to get off his bike again.

So when Thomas moved to Dublin 20 years later, for a job as software engineer at Google, he took his bike with him. He arrived in 2003, in a city at the height of an economic boom. He got to know the city by cycling to work, by cycling to the city centre, and by cycling to the beach. To his surprise, Thomas noticed cyclists were few. When stopping at traffic lights, he got the sensation he was being ignored or frowned upon. By talking to locals he became aware of the social signals his foreign eyes hadn’t seen at first; people saw cycling as an activity for those who couldn’t afford a car.

It prompted Thomas to join the Dublin Cycling Campaign. In a time where bike shops in Dublin were closing their doors, Thomas did anything he could to encourage cycling –shooting videos, rallying campaign members, and organizing social cycle tours. Later, when he met his wife (an Irish lady he got to know on Orkut; Google’s Facebook avant la lettre), he convinced her of the benefits of cycling. Later still, Thomas took his sons, Ryan and Tristan, everywhere by bike, telling Dubliners the joys of cycling when waiting for traffic lights to turn green.

Today, Thomas sees a different Dublin. Cycling infrastructure has increased, new bike shops are opening up and two weeks ago he rode into a traffic jam of cyclists – the first traffic jam Thomas was happy to get stuck in.

Recently, his son Ryan turned three. As a present, Thomas and his wife gave their son a draisienne – a walking powered bicycle for children. Without training wheels. There’s no need to risk wasting a year.

Bikes in Rune Horby’s front garden

15 Apr

Danes are as proud of their bikes as children are of their self built Lego buildings. So if the Danes saw how Rune Horby – their Embassy Deputy in Dublin – filled his front garden with bikes, they would be pleased.

To the right of the garden path leading to his front door, Rune Horby has two retro Raleigh bikes locked together: a women’s bike and a men’s bike. On the rear mudguard of the men’s bike, a sticker reads: Alex Cykler. On the women’s bike, there is a children’s seat. Back in Denmark, Rune, his wife Gitte and their son Bjorn used these bikes as their primary mode of transport. Now they do the same in Dublin.

To the left of that same garden path there’s a grey hump, that looks like large stone boulder left behind by a glacier. Closer inspection shows it’s a motorcycle cover with something underneath. When Rune pulls the cover back, a Christiania trike appears. If the two Raleigh bikes did not already have the Danes back home jumping for joy, then this Christiania certainly will.

On sunny days, the Danish family will uncover the trike and go for a ride. Gitte and Bjorn will sit in front, and Rune – like a chariot driver from a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale – will take them wherever his wife and son direct him. It’s a ritual the family developed back in Denmark, where on late Sunday mornings, Gitte and Bjorn would direct Rune to a Copenhagen Cafe for smørrebrød. Now, that ritual continues in Dublin – and even though the smørrebrød are replaced by bangers and mash, the glass of Carlsberg stays exactly the same.

A Classy Commute – The Sotheby’s Old Masters Specialist

25 Mar

Francois de Poortere, Old Masters Specialist for Sotheby’s, has lived – and cycled – in Paris and London, Europe’s capitals of style and architecture. However, the Belgian born Francois prefers his current home New York – for its style, its architecture, and its cycling. It’s here, when he’s cycling to work in the morning, with the rising sun’s rays reflected by the glass walls of Manhattan’s East Side skyscrapers, Francois feels truly at home.

A Cyclist's View on the East River

Francois lives in Williamsburg – a Brooklyn neighbourhood with organic markets, latte artists, and cyclists. On a typical workday, Francois gets up at 7.45 a.m. He likes to take time starting the day, and considers himself lucky his newborn son Carlo is a good sleeper. As Francois puts on cycling gear, his wife Sunny uses the juicer to turn fresh apples and ginger into a drink for herself and her husband. After the juice and a banana, Francois is on his way to work. Unlike commutes from other Brooklyn residents, his does not involve subways or tunnels and is unaffected by any traffic jams; Francois knows he will be in the office precisely 22 minutes after he starts cycling.

Francois leaves his house on Guersney Street, located on the edge of Williamsburg. He heads north and soon crosses Pulaski Bridge. On that bridge, he looks out over Newton Creek; its water marking the border between the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. The creek ends in the East River, where on sunny mornings with cloud swept skies Francois will see ships sailing, reminding the Old Masters Specialist of paintings Jacob van Ruijsdael made of the Dutch seas, more than 400 years ago.

View of Alkmaar from the sea - by Jacob Van Ruijsdael

A few blocks north, after cycling through empty streets and past warehouses, Francois turns left onto Queensboro Bridge, taking him out of Queens and onto Manhattan Island. Queensboro Bridge has a separate cycling lane, and Francois is joined by other cyclists commuting into Manhattan. With Manhattan’s skyscrapers now in view, Francois is energized and puts his legs to work. He climbs and descends quickly, making a game of overtaking as many bicycles as possible – giving himself extra points if he overtakes a bicycle courier. At the foot of the Queensboro Bridge, Francois turns right on 1st Avenue. Despite busy traffic, Francois feels at ease. His commutes in New York – with its broad streets and designated cycling lanes – are easier than his commutes in London or Paris were, where streets were narrow and traffic was less fluid.

Finally, Francois arrives at Sotheby’s headquarters on York Avenue. Currently, the building is filled with an exposition for early outer space artifacts. On his way to the shower, walking through Sotheby’s main hall, Francois passes Sputnik 2  – a space capsule Russia used in 1957 to send the first dog into orbit. The dog, Laika, didn’t survive the trip and died of overheating. Francois, still a bit heated from his game of overtaking cyclists, is happy he gets to cool off in the shower.

Francois de Poortere on Sotheby's Roofterrace