Monday, February 20, 2012

Picking Paint

Back when I got my hands dirty (I worked briefly as a painting contractor), the other tradespeople always joked about their mistakes “don’t worry, the painters will deal with it.”  These days I am often in the business of choosing paint colors for projects, always an interesting exercise if only because it often happens near the end.



In Medford, where I still function as the designer for the Medford Urban Renewal Agency’s Fa├žade Improvement Program, I’ve chosen paint schemes for dozens of buildings over the years.  Sometimes I am accused of being overly consistent (i.e “boring”) and of picking colors from a limited range.  That’s probably true.  Painting a building, particularly a commercial building, requires a certain amount of restraint.  I tend to strike Neon Yellow off the palette without much thought.  Plus, when you are painting a building, a little color goes a long way.  Which isn’t to say everything has to be tan or grey, but hey, bright colors are why they invented accent strips.  So yes, I tend toward various shades of tan, and cream, and brown, and green, with the occasional red, yellow or even orange (and once violet) highlights.  I will admit it, I don’t like blue, at least for buildings.  I just don’t.   And when a client insists on painting their building the wrong color (sea-foam teal, or the proverbial diarrhea brown), I just cringe every time I go past.  But yes, Virginia,  there are even buildings out there with blue trim that I’ve spec’d, sometimes because that was part of the corporate logo, or what the customer wanted, or who knows why.  There is no accounting for taste and after all is IS just paint...it'll wear off and be re-done in ten years anyway.  But blue?  Ick.

Picking colors usually starts with the limited option items; the awnings, the tile, the metal elements (if there are any).  Those products don’t come in a wide range of tones and so you build your palette around the fixed elements first.  PAINT is easy.  Heck, you can bring in Aunt Sally’s favorite vase and match that if you really want too.  Look at those fan books…there is a color that is right for almost every project (and usually more than one).  In fact I think all those colors are exactly why so many people get paralyzed when they have to decide (and why they are so grateful that I just pick the colors for them).  There are too many choices.  Besides, if I pick the colors they can always blame me if they don’t like them!

I don’t always get it right.  Sometimes the building limits my choices or forces a certain decision that I wouldn’t otherwise make.  Mostly, at least to MY eye, the colors come out pretty well and, every once in awhile, at least I think they come out great.

Today I am picking the exterior colors (or, in truth, more of the exterior colors) for the Holly Theatre.  The painter is nibbling at my heels for a decision.  Perhaps the sun will actually break through to make my life a little easier.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bridges, bridges, and more bridges


This Friday the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation will review the Willamette River Highway Bridges multiple property submittal.  This is a document on the significance of the ten major spans across the river in Multnomah County and includes the formal nomination of four bridges; Hawthorne, Morrison, Burnside and Broadway.  I started working on this project almost two years ago and in the process found a new appreciation for each of these amazing spans.  Almost every Oregonian knows the bridges in downtown Portland, from the “erector set” Marquam, to the soaring Fremont and most of us, I like to think, have our favorites.  They are an amazing group of spans, probably unmatched anywhere in the country, certainly on the West Coast, if only for their diversity.  From the Hawthorne, which is the oldest vertical lift bridge in the nation, to the St. Johns, the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was completed, to the Morrison, the first bascule bridge designed with open  piers to allow water to flow directly through them, Portland does bridges with panache.  It was fun to study these works, and honor to be able to document them for much-deserved recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.


If the Willamette Bridges are the pinnacle of bridge technology in the middle of Oregon (vying with McCullough’s coastal bridges for State-wide honors as a group), they surely are not the only spectacular spans in Oregon.  As I wrote many years ago, getting around the state Oregon, a state replete with creeks, rivers and crevices, without bridges would be darn near impossible.  And Oregon has always taken its roads, and its bridges, seriously.  We still do.  Covered Bridges, those comfortable, quaint, roofs over rivers were a popular form in Oregon where wood, just like rivers, can be easily found.  For years I have worked on the rehabilitation of numerous covered bridges, usually as a part of a team headed by the great guys at OBEC Consulting Engineers.  Together we’ve been involved with the rehab of award-winning projects like the Lowell Covered Bridge or, more recently, the Chambers Covered Railroad Bridge.


This week, on my way up to Portland, I will swing through north central Lane County, where the Deadwood Covered Bridge is soon to get a new shake roof and some other minor but much needed attention.  Deadwood, like so many of Oregon’s 50+ surviving covered bridges, has been bypassed by a typical slab, beam and girder (i.e. pretty boring) concrete span.  Thankfully the good people of Lane County had the vision, and the continued willingness, to retain the Deadwood, and a bunch of other covered bridges, for their history and charm.  Lane County has the largest collection of covered spans in Oregon, which as the largest collection of such spans in America west of the Mississippi River.