October 3, 2011 by: Ben Heimsath


Historic District Big BikeHow about creativity in unexpected places!  A bike rack isn't normally associated with fine design or art.  And a historic district bike rack would be one of the last objects I'd expect to exhibit a creative flair.  Really, what do you think the bike pictured here was hitched to 100 years ago?  Yet, on both coasts, and in an unlikely place in between, I've come across some amazing yet simple ways to make art out of an overlooked utility object - the bike rack.

Historic District Bike Rack AlexandriaIn Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, the brick sidewalks and cobblestone streets have many historic elements preserved.  Though the bike rack clearly is not one of them, it fits in beautifully.  This crisp profile would be very appropriate in any high-end shopping district.  However, it works especially well here, next to the Federal era commercial shops and the tidy late-colonial homes.

Manhattan Beach bike rackOn the West Coast, I came across these gems along the waterfront in Manhattan Beach.  Though not an actual historic district, the houses along the water's edge are tightly controlled, built right up against the property line.  Each one has views of the ocean looking over the road and bike path.  Rather than clutter the view, these ocean waves offer a light touch.  The observer is reminded that the beach lifestyle, even in this wealthy community, still has a laid back attitude.


Historic District Tucson bike rackOur stop in Tucson produced the biggest surprise and the most amazing variations on art in the historic district.  Along trendy 4th Ave in the Pie Allen Historic Neighborhood, the bike racks, and, amazingly, the garbage cans, are all made of bikes!  The odd shapes and twisted forms are composed entirely of pieces of old bikes.  Struts, wheels, pedals, even nuts and bolts are recycled to make a most fantastic collection.  Block by block, these fun objects complement the funky bars, antique stores and resale shops that make this a hip gathering place.

Historic district artful garbage canIn each community, someone, a planner or designer, or project manager boldly initiated these design opportunities.  Cost probably wasn't the biggest concern.  It is likely that any of these bike racks were in line with the cost of one off the shelf or from a catalogue.  I imagine the Tucson work was done pretty cheaply by someone in the district. 

Historic district bike rack scullThe biggest challenge for these and other planners was to imagine the possibilities.  I applaud the anonymous heroes who imagined something better, something artful for their communities.  I hope this inspires others to look for similar opportunities!    


Artists/ Historic Preservation