Homeless in Vancouver: Fairmont Building paint job reflects changing face of Vancouver's Fairview neighbourhood

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      For as long as I can remember, the mammoth slab-o-medical professional services that is the Fairmont Building at 750 West Broadway has worn a sensible and sober suit of flat ochre paint. If nothing else, this 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!

      On Tuesday (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.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      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 by 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.
      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 include the concrete building at 1687 West Broadway, 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 12th Avenue with the colourful balconies.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

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

      To revitalize and modernize the exterior, balconies on the alley 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 12th, on Oak Street, which was dressed with some strips of colour.

      Details of the east face of Le Corbusier's 1957 Cité radieuse in Marseille.

      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 panelling 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, architects who followed Corbusier rarely included the colourful, painterly notes that so enliven the Cité radieuse complex in Marseille, or the Berlin Unité in Berlin.

      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.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.