City / Visual Art / Architecture
You! Design the Top of the Space Needle. Yup, You. (Plus A Nerdout on the Precise 1962/2012 Orange Now Up There.)
by Jen Graves
on Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 1:17 PM
COURTESY THE SPACE NEEDLE
This is fairly amazing: The Space Needle is holding an open competition starting now, and the winning design will be painted on the top of the Needle for six months. Really.
My whole heart is in love with this. I think what I like so much is that it's another version of the story of one little hand's napkin drawing transforming into a civic masthead—the myth of how the Needle itself was designed, and the myth behind the magic of all great architecture in one form or another. It's that shift in scale from individual to civic, and when it goes well, it links the two realms, the realm of the experience of one body with the experience of many bodies agreeing to live in one limited space together.
You only have to be a U.S. resident, so don't be discouraged just because you don't live in Seattle.
A panel of local judges will pick five top choices, which will be voted on online. The top vote-getter will be unveiled on October 21—the 50th anniversary of the closing day of the 1962 World's Fair. (After which, the press release notes endearingly, "Painting will begin as quickly as the weather permits.")
This gives me a chance to nerd out for a minute about color. I've been wondering how exactly they got the current orange, a retro throwback, to match the original 1962 orange? Was the original paint still being manufactured? Was a sample just hanging around in a stray antique can of paint in a closet somewhere?
No, it turns out. They had to make it from scratch.
Scratch started with multiple, varying, faded photographs. A handful were selected to try to recreate a 2012 equivalent of 1962's orange. Imitating a color from photographs is like recreating dance from video, sort of a delicious infinite regress.
There was no name to help. The original paint was just some orange paint for which nobody seems to know the original manufacturing name anyway.
Then-manager of the Needle gave whatever the paint was actually called by its manufacturer a Space-Age name instead: Galaxy Gold. (He also called the tower Astronaut White—ahem—and the core Orbital Olive, and the halo Re-Entry Red.)
But then even the name Galaxy Gold got lost, when people mistakenly began referring to it as Orbital Orange. This was finally set straight in Knute Berger's recently released book. That didn't help identify a color match, it just corrected the record.
So after looking at the photographs, the search for the 2012/1962 orange was narrowed down to three existing Pittsburgh Paint oranges reviewed by Needle staffers working with O'mega Graphics on Leary Way. (It's O'mega's 50th year, too, and O'mega has been painting the Needle's roof for more than 30 of those years.)
Of those three already-manufactured oranges, the staff chose Field Poppy. (Nobody can remember the names of the other two.)
And until I bugged them today, staffers thought Field Poppy was what was out there on the top of their building at this moment. But it is not.
Bob Kehoe, O'mega's founder and a man who also happens to be an artist himself, had not been satisfied that the staffers' choice—Field Poppy—matched the photographs. He decided Field Poppy was not quite 1962 Galaxy Gold.
So on his own, he went back to Miller Paint in Ballard and asked them to mix a custom blend of four pigments: a white base with liquid tints in red oxide, durable red, titanium white, and medium yellow.
They now call that Galaxy Gold.
And this time, they know the recipe for it. Not that it's commercially available.
"They aren't selling it," said Needle spokeswoman Mary Bacarella, laughing at the end of her search for the story of the 2012/1962 orange. "But whenever we need Galaxy Gold now, they have it."
*From the press release: "To tease the kick-off, Galaxy Gold berets with the hashtag '#TopThis' were placed around the city." So FYI, when you see orange berets.