Sunday, July 29, 2001

Debate over bridge colors isn't new

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — The recent hue and cry over what color to paint the Roebling Suspension Bridge is not the first time Greater Cincinnati bridge colors have been debated.

        In 1987, a group of University of Cincinnati students proposed a palette of rich colors for the bridges linking downtown Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

[photo] A drawing shows how color-coordinated bridge paintings would look facing the Cincinnati riverfront.
(UC College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning)
| ZOOM |
        They also suggested adding lighting to each of the six bridges — not just the Roebling Suspension Bridge — and erecting welcoming signs at the ends of each structure.

        “Color in architecture is not a new concept. Throughout the ages, designers have used color to enhance structures from the elaborate mosaic patterns inherent in Islamic architecture to the bold use of color components in the Pompidou Center in Paris,” according to the study.

        Back then, Kentucky transportation officials — those responsible for maintaining the bridges spanning the Ohio River — were intrigued by the students' proposal, but they decided against a coordinated color scheme for the bridges, largely because of cost, said Charlie Meyers, chief district engineer for the state Department of Transportation's Northern Kentucky office.

        “I think they looked at it in the central office, but because of the expense, they didn't proceed,” Mr. Meyers said.

        In 1987, the cost of painting all six bridges was $6 million.

        Today, that's the estimated cost of painting the Suspension Bridge alone. The push to paint the Suspension Bridge “Wildcat” Blue, “Blah Beige,” Cincinnati Reds' Red, or Bengals' stripes can't be decided until the Kentucky General Assembly funds the Roebling painting, the Department of Transportation decided last week.

        That will leave the current color on the Roebling until at least 2002.        

Variety of schemes

    After researching everything from traffic patterns to weather conditions to the designs of the six bridges connecting Cincinnati to Northern Kentucky, the UC students created several color schemes with the help of computer graphics.
    (One of the structures, the Central Bridge, no longer exists, as it was demolished in 1992 to make way for the Taylor-Southgate Bridge linking Newport and downtown Cincinnati).
    The students' color suggestions included:
    • The Daniel Carter Beard Bridge — named for the Covington founder of the Boy Scouts of America — should be painted any color but yellow to dispel its nickname, “The Big Mac Bridge.” The students suggested painting the bridge deep blue with an orange bottom trim and undersides in keeping with the scouting colors.
    “The massive open design of the structure will benefit from the heavy color and provide a strong image during cloudy days,” the students wrote.
    • The L&N Bridge should be a jazzy purple with cool teal to brighten up the eastern end of the bridge run. The students said the heavier double structure needed the lighter color to balance out the size and to create a visually exciting contrast with neighboring bridges.
    Alternative scheme: bright orange with cool teal bottom trim and undersides.
    • For the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, a double bridge, the students recommended using the existing industrial gray and adding corporate burgundy and jazzy purple for bottom trim and undersides to complement the recommended colors of neighboring bridges.
    Alternative scheme: warm peach and corporate burgundy for bottom trim and undersides.
    • For the Brent Spence Bridge: The structural enclosure of the underpass should be a lighter color to promote a more relaxed passage. Proposed colors were cool teal, with bright orange for the bottom trim and undersides with the leading horizontal girders on the Kentucky side introducing the bicentennial palate of deep blue, metallic bronze, jazzy purple, corporate burgundy, cool teal, warm peach, bright orange and soft yellow.
    Alternative scheme: bright orange with bottom trim and underside in cool teal.
    • For the Roebling Suspension Bridge: The study recommended a metallic bronze paint, or a warm peach color with a metallic bronze bottom trim and undersides.
    Alternative scheme: cool teal with metallic bronze trim and undersides.
    “The end result is a spectrum of colors ranging from the cool colors on the ends, to the warm colors in the center adding a festive mood to the riverfront area through the use of the bicentennial color palette,” the students wrote.
        For the color schemes discussed in the 1980s, Rick Greiwe, then-president of the Greater Cincinnati Bicentennial Commission, had asked the junior interior design class from UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning to submit the designs after UC students won a competition to develop graphic standards for the Queen City's 200th birthday celebration.

        Mr. Greiwe's interest in using the environment to make major statements was spurred by his attendance at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, where everything from tickets to bleachers was color-coordinated.

        UC professor Nicholas J. Chaparos, now retired, oversaw the bridge project with help from other DAAP professors, including Robert Probst, a graphic design professor who now directs UC's School of Design.

        The students' goal was to create a color scheme that would enhance the unique character and design of each bridge, while providing clean and coordinated entryways to the Ohio River communities of Cincinnati, Covington and Newport, Mr. Probst said.

        Color possibilities were chosen to be viewed by plane and boat traffic, as well as pedestrians and motorists.

        “(Mr. Chaparos) saw all the bridges as one big environment,” Mr. Probst said.

        Because of its heavy pedestrian use, the students focused much of their attention on the Roebling Suspension Bridge, the model for New York's Brooklyn Bridge.

"A sense of identity'
        While the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has not yet decided on a color for the Roebling, its recent online poll showed 58 percent of respondents favored blue, 12 percent wanted the bridge painted green, and 10 percent opted for beige.

        The students' study recommended making the Suspension Bridge the “Golden Bridge to the West” with a chemical cleaning and a metallic bronze paint that would glisten in the sunlight.

        If cost and availability of the paint made that option unworkable, the students suggested painting the bridge a warm peach color with a metallic bronze bottom trim and undersides.

        According to the study, “Since this color seemed to consistently stand out in the weather studies, the lighter structure of the cables would carry the color well and still be visible on cloudy days. The warmer color is more user friendly and will be experienced by many pedestrians who use this bridge, particularly during events at the riverfront complexes on both sides of the river.”

        Ed McCrary, managing principal of the HOK architecture firm in San Francisco, said he finds the concept of coordinated color schemes for regional bridges “very intriguing.”

        While four bridges in the Bay Area are a plain silver, the city is known for one colorful standout.

        “In San Francisco, we obviously have one famous bridge that is a color — the Golden Gate Bridge,” Mr. McCrary said.

        Keeping that landmark painted a deep red orange is a full-time job for some people, he said.

        “I think it would be quite interesting, certainly from the air, to see this rainbow of bridges,” Mr. McCrary said of the Cincinnati bridge-painting proposal.

        In Chicago, city officials had noted architect Helmut Jahn choose a series of “lively reds” when that city repainted its early 20th century spans over the north branch of the Chicago River in the mid-1980s, said Joe Valerio, past chairman of the American Institute of Architects committee on design.

        And closer to home, Bob Richardson, Cincinnati city architect, recently began coordinating a more colorful look along Fort Washington Way near that city's riverfront. The color scheme, featuring everything from aqua blue columns resembling ship masts to steel superstructures painted vibrant hues of blue and blue-green, have drawn praise from motorists and media.

        “The highway interstate environment is such a mundane environment,” Mr. Richardson said. “Everything traditionally is gray and galvanized. Having color helps give a sense of identity.”


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