August 08, 2012

Pedal Power

Mark Pasnik thinks a lot about bicycles these days—specifically, the role of bikes in an urban environment like Boston and the impact they can have on people, the environment, and public policy.

His passion for two-wheeled transportation culminated this summer in an exhibit devoted to the production, use, and culture of the bike. The installation, “Let’s Talk about Bikes,” was curated by Pasnik with colleagues from his architecture and design firm, over,under (including assistant curator Keith Lagrèze, MArch ’09). The show runs through August 31 at the Boston Society of Architects’ new gallery, BSA Space, located on Congress St.

“We hope that people who visit the exhibition will leave with a changed impression about the meaning of bikes in Boston,” Pasnik said. “Our goal is to present many voices in an ongoing debate about the importance of bicycles to the future of our city. We want visitors to form their own opinions and participate in that larger discussion.”

To get the dialogue started, Pasnik and his team produced a newspaper as part of the show that includes interviews and surveys of more than two dozen prominent players on the scene, from Boston’s Mayor Menino and transportation officials to advocates, bike builders, and riders. The public’s reaction, says Pasnik, has been exciting to watch. Nearly 800 visitors attended the opening night, and another 650 people contributed to a social media project by posting opinions online about why they do or do not ride in the city.

“We feel like we hit a nerve,” Pasnik said. “It appears that Bostonians do want to talk about bikes.”

Now that the exhibition is nearing the end of its run, Pasnik is switching gears back to school. He first taught as an adjunct at Wentworth 17 years ago and joined the full-time faculty in 2005. He even counts four former students as part of his firm’s 15-person team.

“As an architect, it’s wonderful to be on both sides of the teaching and practicing equation,” Pasnik said. “My practice keeps my design skills fresh and helps me be a better teacher, while my students are constantly asking inspiring questions that influence me in many ways.”

As a result of academic research, in fact, Pasnik produced a paper he will present in August in Helsinki, Finland. The paper examines the controversial legacy of Boston’s concrete architecture from the 1960s and early 70s, seen in structures like the Christian Science Church Center and Boston City Hall.

“There’s a much deeper and more interesting story of civic aspiration behind this period’s architecture than I think the public realizes,” Pasnik said. “They are much better buildings than they are generally given credit for, even if they are often in need of rethinking as they near the age of 50.”

In the fall, Pasnik will lead a graduate architecture studio that will travel to London to study the many mid-century concrete buildings which inspired Boston’s own design scene.

For more information about “Let’s Talk about Bikes,” visit http://bsaspace.org/ or www.overcommaunder.com.

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