You know what makes urban bike light systems fascinating? Hearing about them from a bona fide lighting designer and bike enthusiast… Indeed. We learned that for ourselves over a night of friendly eats and rounds (and more rounds…) with our friend and neighbor, Mauricio Lopez. By night’s end, we couldn’t help but ask him to dish a little more on his relationships with work, art, riding and cities near and far.
Architect, artist, designer, urban thinker, casual contributor to Greenpoint’s sartorial phenomenon… Mauricio outright works that legendary Brooklyn Creative Energy (nope, not a myth). He got his architectural start contributing to the reconstruction process in his native Colombia following a shattering earthquake, and he continues to contribute to his adopted New York City home in ways that better our shared environment and certainly brighten the view.
What you do for a living…
I’m an artist and lighting designer, founder of ML Studio, an art and lighting design firm based in Brooklyn. My artwork is greatly inspired by architecture/urbanism and nature. On the other hand, with lighting I get to influence the perception of a space. It’s very interesting how an intangible element such as light becomes so essential to the definition of form and space.
And what do you to really live…
Art, design, music, food, wandering around and visiting new places.
How does riding factor into your day-to-day?
All of the above. I commute to work and meetings, I go shopping, to the bank and just ride around neighborhoods. Biking can get me there deceivingly fast, and I can do more things in one afternoon than when I walk of course, and sometimes than when I hop on and off the subway. At the end of the day I like to explore around; it’s very relaxing.
Does riding lend to your creative process?
Absolutely. Biking clears my mind, which is very good for my creative process. It’s also a great way to get off the path and discover little streets and spots. It opens the door to new experiences and that is inspiring. I rely on the perception and memories of my surroundings to create my artwork; I don’t focus on the details. The actual speed at which the bike moves helps me capture those images in a more abstract way as well.
Three words that describe being a part of the Brooklyn community…
Inspiring, vibrant, home.
Is there any specific quality to yourself or your life that you know is a direct result of living in Brooklyn?
When I moved to New York and was looking for a place to live, Williamsburg/Greenpoint became my first choice because of the growing art community and opportunities. There is an interesting energy in Brooklyn, it can be very low key and vibrant at the same time. Because of my work, sometimes I need the stimulation to create, sometimes I need to be focused to produce, and sometimes I need to be part of the community and socialize. A neighborhood rarely offers such diversity and contrast; Greenpoint and Williamsburg do.
Name your Brooklyn top three…
Creativity: Great designers and artists are based in Brooklyn. It really exploded in the last 10 years.
The Counting Room: Yummy snacks, cocktails, great music and fun!
The waterfront: I’m very excited to see how parks and bike lanes keep popping up along the East River.
Favorite place to ride in Brooklyn?
My neighborhood, and the waterfront.
Three words that describe how you feel on a ride…
Alert – I better be!
Optimistic – I feel like I’m taking care of my business and myself.
You travel quite a bit for work… Any stand-out observations about bike culture in other countries?
Bike culture is changing rapidly around the world as many big cities are modifying their automobile center infrastructure to create bike lanes and routes. This is a great incentive for people to get out there and bike in a safer environment. Another big improvement in the big cities is the creation of public bike sharing programs in the last few years. Cities like Montreal, London, Paris or Beijing offer this convenient system to locals, and it is also a fun way for tourist to explore these cities.
New York is definitely doing the right thing by providing dedicated bike lanes, traffic lights and reviving the biking culture. It’s good to learn from traditionally bike friendly places. Good examples of established bicycle culture are some small towns – and a few cities – with fairly flat topography in South America, as well as in Asia and Europe, where bikes have been a dependable form of transportation.
And how about how other urban environments function differently from Brooklyn?
Each place has its own rhythm and I find that is part of each city’s charm. Brooklyn has very distinct neighborhoods but in general they feel quite residential and quiet, except for the downtown or industrial areas of course. Even Manhattan or Queens have a very different vibe. That is of course more noticeable when you compare Brooklyn with other cities. Some can seem a bit hectic and happening. Hong Kong is a good example, it feels like Chinatown meets midtown in Manhattan; Hong Kong is a fascinating combination of tradition and modern life. Other places seem designed for the car, with greater distances and roads that are not very pedestrian friendly like Beijing; but full of contrast between the old city and the beautiful new architecture – with many new buildings designed by some of the most renowned architects of our time. Latin American cities are very diverse and full of contrasts as well. The beautiful mountains on one side of Bogota give it a very special natural setting and become a point of reference wherever you are in the city.
I consider myself an urban being, I love the vibrancy of cities, and that’s what I like about Brooklyn and New York in general, but I always find historic towns or city neighborhoods very charming. Paris and Istanbul have that big city energy and the calm and charm of the historic streets.
Which was more important when you were looking for a bike to call your own: Matching to your personal style, or meeting your performance demands?
Both, my passion for art and design is reflected on everything I like; the bike is not an exception. I wanted something retro, with personality, comfortable and easy to ride over the bridge when I go to Manhattan. The Willow by Brooklyn Cruiser was perfect for me. I’m short so the step-through was a perfect fit, the 7-speed hub makes going up the bridge much easier, and the design and details just make me happy. There is a lot of care in the way this bike is designed and made.
As a lighting designer, did you face added consideration when sourcing lights for your own bike? What was important to you and why?
Oh, YES! I had a few requirements. I couldn’t help it! No disposable batteries, low maintenance, safety, performance and aesthetics. I found that the magnetic induction lights were a good option for the retrofit and met my first two requirements. The concept is simple; magnets installed in the spokes activate the dynamo, which produces the power for the lights without friction and noise. Then for safety, performance and aesthetics I found that Reelight, a Danish company, made the magnetic induction kits including front and rear lights. The rear light stays on for about a minute, so the bike is still visible while waiting at a traffic light. Both lights have built-in reflectors for added visibility and a retro style that works very nice with my Brooklyn Cruiser.
Any other must-have accessories?
I like to keep it simple and functional. Besides the lights, a must have for my bike is a bell, a rack and a lock.
We love your commissioned MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design piece. And what a tremendous honor to contribute to the city landscape, particularly such a integral and wholly necessary component! Tell us something insider about that experience…
Thank you! Working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Arts for Transit and Urban Design for this public artwork in Far Rockaway was a fascinating experience. The creative process started with researching the neighborhood’s history and exploring its streets to find sources of inspiration. Just the same way as when I wander around on my bike, I created memories of the place that I later used to sketch what would be the final artwork. The gestures and colors of the art installation were inspired by subtle elements of the urban and natural landscape of the neighborhood.
Special thanks to photographer Jesse Ross