Feb 5, 2013
commented on Hue and Cry
I first visited Seattle as a little kid in 1957. Lived there for 10 years in the 70s-80s. Know the city 'intimately'. Mourned when the Orpheum came down, and worked at the Music Hall before it was razed.
Recently I stayed in a room near the top of the Red Lion on 5th. I was crestfallen at the view: cool monotones of non-committal color on generic structures. From this elevated perspective, the banality of the city's complexion was more nakedly revealed!
Of course, most other high-rise cities are shameless with similar 'nudity'. Boring beyond words. No doubt neutral-colored building materials are also the cheapest.
I was in Dubai recently and went up in the Burj Khalifa. The surrounding environment is monotone in its coloring, but the thousands of hi-rises make Manhattan look like a gopher hole. It's all in the style of the structures, ranging from sober to goofy. Color is neutral due to albedo considerations, but big money provides for some playful gooniness. There's a mega-sized Big Ben right next to generic glass boxes, etc. etc.
I wrote a big book on the architecture of Calcutta, India, and I never really talked about color because the city engages in it at every opportunity - it was self-apparent. The Victorian architect Halsey Ricardo (who designed the gigantic Howrah railway station opposite Calcutta, which was recently decked out in flashy but stately brick red and vibrant yellow) was a passionate advocate of color in architecture, even suggesting that park benches be livened up with any color other than black or grey. The mighty Howrah Bridge, connecting Calcutta with the rest of India, is silver by day, and lighted lavender by night.
It's a pity that, after its wild fling with the Central Library, Seattle reverted to the safe propriety of nothingness in its high-rises. Today it's all about shape rather than color: witness the Gherkin and the Shard in London, Gehry's Beekman Tower in NYC, etc.
Thanks Jen, for even bringing up the subject of color in built environments.