May 22nd, 2012

This month our favorite bridge celebrates her 75th birthday. There are many attendant festivities. Our contribution is the introduction of PUBLIC Bikes painted in the exact color and finish of the bridge (International Orange). We have a limited number of these 7-speed bikes ($750) – so, if you are interested, act quickly.

It’s easy to be a little jaded about a 75th anniversary: 50 is impressive, 100 epic. But jaded just doesn’t work with the Golden Gate Bridge; we love it so much we’d support a yearly celebration. In fact, I consider this bridge to be one of the greatest pieces of modern design – ever. Like all classic works, it just seems to grow in stature and grace every time we look at it.

What makes it so great? So many things. Astounding engineering – when completed in 1937 it was the tallest bridge in the world and the longest single-span suspension structure. Majesty – a man-made structure that holds it own even set against the dramatic natural surroundings and wonders of the bay. Beautiful design details – like the elegant ‘pyramiding’ columns. It’s heroic – reflecting our highest ambitions and speaking well of mankind. It transcends politics and brushes aside traditional design categorization. Although often billed as a triumph of the Art Deco style, its essence is too powerful, honest, and modern to be assigned to a bygone era. So purposeful, so optimistic, The Golden Gate Bridge is like a dynamic living creature, you even feel it move when you walk or ride over it.

Even with all these assets, its color might be the most defining feature. There are many stories about how its color came to be. If the US Air Force had its way the bridge would have been done up in red and white horizontal stripes (for visibility). The Navy was pushing for yellow and black. Others argued for a neutral grey to blend into the landscape. There were varying schemes to paint the railings and cables in colors contrasting the columns. But when the steel arrived with a reddish orange lead based primer in 1934 it became obvious to architect Irving F. Morrow that International Orange was the right choice.

The name of the color is also elusive. The way the light reflects off the surface gives it a somewhat indefinable patina and character. The color changes with the day and time, light, and perpetual aging and exposure to weather. More than a color the surface is like a breathing skin. A great fast paced read on the subject is Golden Gate Bridge: History and Design of an Icon, which has wonderful drawings and illustrations by Donald MacDonald that give a proper context for the bridge – purchase info below.

I was just in NYC for the ICFF show. There was a Californian Design booth and the backdrop for the booth was a huge photo of the GG Bridge.  It is perhaps the greatest symbol for California and perhaps for modernism overall given the power with which it combines form and function.



BOOK: Golden Gate Bridge: History and Design of an Icon ($16.95)
A fascinating study for those interested in architecture, design, or anyone with a soft spot for San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge is a fitting tribute to this timeless icon. This accessible account is accompanied by 70 of MacDonald’s own charming color illustrations, making it easy to understand how the bridge was designed and constructed.