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A biking architect
If you're someone with ambitions of leaving your mark on the city you call home, it helps to explore urban spaces as part of your daily routine. That’s the case for Spanish-born architect and creative Benni Allan, who covers more than 100 miles travelling around his current base camp every single week. “London has a unique energy about it that can be discovered if you want to find it,” he says. “Whether it’s art, fashion, music or even food, it has something to offer for all types of people. You will often find me exploring the city at weekends and most evenings after a long day’s work, searching for the newest exhibition or gallery openings.”
Allan originally moved to the UK to study and to continue playing semi-professional football in Manchester, before relocating to the capital four years ago to work for a respected Camden-based architecture firm. As with most young urbanites, maintaining an active lifestyle is a top priority for Allan, who says that he rarely uses public transport. “Cycling is my primary form of exercise and transport,” he explains, “as I prefer to roam around discovering all the different areas of the city. I am lost without my bike.”
For Allan, cycling isn’t simply a great way to keep fit – it’s a means of staying connected with a city that’s constantly on the move. “London is an amazing amalgamation of different buildings and has a character like no other,” he explains, “and cycling allows me to be spontaneous and to choose a different route to get around.” Clothes are also a big consideration, and what Allan chooses to wear reflects his active lifestyle. “ I have to balance both work and keeping fit, so I’m always conscious that my outfit needs to be adaptable. I like a mix of smart casual wear that has a simple cut, clothes that can just about pass for a meeting after cycling in, but also wouldn’t stop me from going out in the evening in.”
The 60-minute round-trip Allan makes each day also enables him to pause and take stock, relieving some of the stress that can build up while living in a big city. “I often feel re-energised and more alert after a long cycle,” he reveals. “As well as my professional work I am heavily involved in teaching at the University of Greenwich, and my commute from my flat in Bethnal Green south through Canary Wharf and the docklands area provides an amazing juxtaposition of buildings and industry that make it an enjoyable cycle.” It’s simple pleasures like this that make cycling in a busy metropolis worthwhile. Because while it’s easy to just put your head down and pedal, in order to really get the most out of London you have to be alert and open to everything that’s going on around you.
After all, as Allan believes, cities are invariably shaped by the people who truly experience them. “As an architect I aspire to make, and to create places that have an experiential quality that offers narrative and meaning to the people who use them. “I’m concerned with the ever-changing social and environmental issues we face today, and at the same time engaging with society both at an individual and a collective level.”