Saturday, August 27, 2011

Riverside Plaza, for Piet's Sake

Heading back into town, I noticed that the new paint job on Riverside Plaza is underway:

Riverside Plaza in Minneapolis with most of the panels painted white, blue, yellow and red, some in the background in dark peachy tan
The building in the foreground sports the new color scheme, which is a restoration of the original Mondrian design of architect Ralph Rapson. The one in the background still shows the hugely ugly paint job that was imposed ten or twenty years ago.

While there are many arguments to make about whether the buildings were ever successful as places for humans to live, or if they should have even been built in the first place, it's obvious they look immeasurably better with their panels in bright colors than they did when painted to look like giant "flesh"-colored Bandaids.

Who picked that color, anyway? It's about the worst possible choice: too similar to the concrete, but not similar enough, so that it's jarringly ambiguous.

A recent post on Boing Boing told of a street art fair in Bristol, England, in an area of "brutalist" architecture built around the same time and from the same aesthetic as Riverside Plaza. The snip by writer Tim Maughn said:

Graffiti artists not just from Bristol but around the globe descended on Nelson Street, transforming the whole area from drab, urban decay into what feels like a new -- almost virtual -- space...

It is yet another example, amongst the hundreds that dot the urban landscape of Britain, of 1950/60s post war planning and architecture that aimed to herald a new, futuristic, technology-driven utopia. But of course the future's greatest strength is that it can never be predicted and tamed, let alone designed or planned. The town planners and architects failed, and as the decades passed they watched their dreams descend into decay, shunned by popular taste and left to become associated with poverty, depravation and failure. And to add the ultimate insult to their injuries, they saw their utopian designs become the defining science fiction image of a dystopian future.
Crowds walking between concrete walls that have been painted with brightly colored graffiti-style images, varying greatly
That's another way to change the paint job!

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