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Fresh paint for the 56-year-old Fairmont Building

June 7, 2016
The Faiirmont building at in the 11:23 a.m. today

The Faiirmont Building at 750 West Broadway Avenue, at 11:23 a.m. today.

For as long as I can remember, the mammoth slab-o-medical professional services that is the Fairmont Building at 750 West Broadway Avenue, has worn a sensible and sober suit of flat ochre paint, which, if nothing else, has certainly accentuated the building’s monolithic character.

Now the 14-storey office tower, built in 1960, is getting its first fresh coat of paint in years and it’s a fashionable tri-tone, patterned scheme, to boot!

Today (June 7) at 11:23 a.m., I stood on the north side of the 700 block and watched as a scaffold crew of three painters, six stories up the south face of the building, worked their way down, rollering-on precise rectangles of battleship grey over top of the old paint job.

fairmont-building-repainting-02

The painters were working their way down the building in strips, obviously moving east. Directly above them was a pattern of grey rectangles on ochre and to their west were two wide, top-to-bottom, strips of the finished paint scheme—interlocking grey, white and black rectangles, completely covering the original colour.

The overall monochromatic pattern has been carefully designed to look random but it certainly isn’t. For instance, the size of each painted rectangle is dictated by the physical waffle grid of windows as well as lines etched into the building’s concrete facade.

The intent has been to boldly revitalize the look of the 56-year-old building, in a way that is not an imposition.

At best, the new paint job will dramatically accentuate the Fairmont’s intrinsic architectural character—at worst, it could come off looking childish, like a giant Lego building.

Reno-painting Brutalist architecture is a roots thing

The repainted facade of 1687 West Broadway Avenue.—Google Street View

The repainted facade of 1687 West Broadway Avenue.—Google Street View

Dressing up an an old concrete building with an artful pattern of paint is becoming more common. Recent examples in the Fairview neighbourhood that come to mind, include the concrete building at 1687 West Broadway Avenue, where a panel under each of the deep-set front windows has been painted either grey, teal or salmon.

The alley side of 1125 West 12 Avenue with the colourful balconies.

The alley side of 1125 West 12 Avenue with the colourful balconies.

Another example is the fresh paint on the concrete tower at 1125 West 12 Avenue—formerly known as Shaughnessy Village and now renovated and rebooted as APT Living.

To revitalize and modernize the exterior, the balconies on the ally side of the tower were painted snow white on three sides,with the undersides of each variously painted mustard yellow, light grey, dark blue-gray or teal.

One of the custodians with the building thought that the inspiration for this paint scheme was a newish Vancouver General Hospital building, visible from 1125 West 12, on Oak Street, which was dressed with some strips of colour.

Detail of the east face of Le Corbusier's Cité radieuse in Marseille, France.

Detail of the east face of Le Corbusier’s 1957 Cité radieuse in Marseille, France.

Actually, the real inspiration behind the exterior makeovers of all three of these 1950s and 1960s concrete buildings would have to be Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect, who originally popularized these kind of modernist concrete buildings in the 1940s and 1950. He included colourful exterior paneling in many of his famous designs, including the series of mammoth residential housing complexes designed in accord with his Unité d’habitation principles.

However, while these particular Le Corbusier buildings are credited with helping inspire the worldwide Brutalist architectural movement that held sway through the 1970s, the architects who followed Corbusier rarely included the colourful, painterly notes that so enliven the Cité radieuse complex in Marseille, France or the Berlin Unité in Berlin, Germany.

Depending how you look at it then, such “reno-painting” could be considered either as unnecessary, marketing-driven, decorative cladding or it could be seen as a perfectly appropriate (if belated) finishing touch. Click the images to enlarge them.

5 Comments
  1. Rodney Clarke permalink

    Your usual stimulating post, but if you were on the north side of 700 block would you not be watching the workers working their way down the north face of the building, not the south?

    • Given my way with directions I could be wrong but I think I have it right. Perhaps it would be clearer to say that I was standing on the north side looking across the street at the Fairmont, which is on the south side of the block. I let that be taken for granted because the photos more or less showed (not perhaps clearly though) that I was across the street. I’ll work on it. Thanks.

  2. Le Corbusier, who forsaw concrete “streets in the sky”, he has a lot to answer for. He dreamt of leaving the ground floor open – so that the tower block would appear to float in the air. It all sounds so romantic – and yet the reality can be quite grim on mental health. Children have nowhere to play, vandalism runs riot and suicides are rampant. His designs worked in France, but not the UK. However, I do like the splash of colour… it’s very attractive.

    • You are right that Le Corbusier’s designs often worked better on paper than in real life. He certainly led public led public housin the wrong direction. I wonder if he was a detail person, that is to say, did he care much beyond concepts? In general, the public housing mega-structures inspired by his Radiant City concept, such as Pruitt–Igoe, built in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1954, were, ill-thought-out disasters. And Le Corbusier’s celebrated car design from 1936—the Voiture—looks pretty but damned if I can see how it would turn corners!

      • lol, “detail person”. He put the children’s play area on the roof. Can you imagine children being encouraged to play on the roof of a 30 storey building? If they played football – the ball would act like a flying missile by the time it got the ground floor. – and smash holes in passing cars. But he could sell the dream…

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