Herman Miller takes it to the Streets of Melbourne…exploring design on a bicycle!

In partnership with our friends at Rapha, we’ve explored Melbourne’s unique architectural feats of brilliance from the saddles of our bikes with Warren and Mahoney’s Richard Weinman. | 01.Dec.17

At Herman Miller we know that the best designs are those holding capacity to improve our common experience, ease the difficulties of our day-to-day life, and extend the horizons of human performance. Of course, it was only natural for us then to partner with famed cycling brand Rapha – a company that truly prides itself on performance-driven design. And across a series of cities across the world, we’ve spent the year together curating a series of architecture and design tours lead by local creative who understand that cycling can give you a new perspective on the cities surrounding us all.

In collaboration with Rapha’s network of clubhouses across the world, we’ve taken the design hunt from the streets of Boulder, San Francisco, New York City, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, and even to Melbourne.

“Herman Miller is a company synonymous with human centred problem-solving design with timeless outcomes”, says Richard Weinman, Principal of Warren and Mahoney, and long-time cycling enthusiast. As the leader of our recent tour through Melbourne, we couldn’t think of a better person to share the city’s celebrated architectural icons with over sixty design hunters:

“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!”– Richard Weinman.

In recent years, this sentiment has become something of an international cycling renaissance. Throughout streets in every pocket of the world, more and more of us are taking to the bicycle in a bid to achieve greater personal and environmental wellbeing. While the share bike movement continues to gather steam, more of us now recognise that intelligent, accessible and democratic design is having a more significant impact on our lives than ever before. “I think about a bike as a tool that gives you access to a city, to a community,” says Rob Forkes, Founder of Design Within Reach and PUBLIC Bikes (and the leader of our popular San Francisco ride). “Design is all around you,” he continues. “Behind everything that you see has been built, there’s some human intent – looking at things from a design perspective is about getting people to appreciate that.”

Evidently, the cycling lifestyle and the design-led life traverse the same landscape: the human connection to our designed environments. For renowned New Yorker architect, Andrew McGee (leader of the NYC leg of the tour) cycling affords us all a unique opportunity to access ‘the spaces in between’: “We noticed all these really interesting public spaces in Lower Manhattan that a lot of people weren’t aware of, which are less about landmarks and more about looking closely at these unique spaces that were created for various reasons.”

Poised somewhere between the cyclist’s spirit of exploration and the designer’s spirit of innovation, the Herman Miller Design Rides return again next year with an expansive line-up of tours throughout the world’s most inspiring locations. For the antipodean part of this year’s tour, we sat down with Richard Weinman to find out just how much this twinned spirit has allowed Melbourne to blossom into the World’s Most Liveable City for the seventh time in a row. Frequently taking an afternoon stolen away in his very own Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman after a pleasantly arduous ride throughout the city’s winding lanes and riverside views, Weinman, in his own words, believes that “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.”

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?

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.

Well, you took a lucky group of cyclists on an architectural journey of the city recently for the Melbourne part of the Herman Miller Design Ride X Rapha. From your perspective, what were a few of the design narratives that cyclists saw on the ride that Melbourne is not normally recognised for?

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.

I understand that while curating the ride, you were 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?

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.

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?**

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.

For you personally, what were a few of the standout locations you visited on the ride?

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.

Do you think, then, that these icons receive the attention they truly deserve?

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.

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?

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.

With respect to perspective, how does cycling through the city offer us a new vantage on Melbourne’s architectural heritage?

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.