Saturday, April 07, 2001

City gets a splash of color

Project adds vitality to riverfront

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Getting in and out of Cincinnati's riverfront is a little more colorful than it used to be. And we're not talking about the language coming from behind the wheel.

        Maybe you have noticed:

        • Cables on bridges at Elm Street and Main Street crest on aqua-blue columns that resemble the masts of ships.

[photo] The Elm Street bridge crest on aqua-blue columns.
        • Brushed aluminum letters rise above burnt-orange color bars on street signs, mirroring the office superstructures that tower over red-brick walkways.

        • Deep blue signs lead you to the river. Gold and brown signs direct travelers to destinations inland. Directional arrows on aqua circles mimic the color scheme.

        • At each end of the riverfront district, highway ramps lift Fort Washington Way traffic into the air, over steel superstructures painted individual vibrant hues of blue and blue-green.

        These colors were not discovered among aging paint stockpiles in a highway maintenance garage.

        They were chosen for their aesthetics and their fit with the atmosphere that architects and designers have been working to create in a new urban zone.

        “There is an identity about our coloring system,” says Bob Richardson, Cincinnati city architect and the Queen City's coordinator for a $2 billion riverfront redevelopment plan that is probably a decade away from completion. The color scheme is part of its window dressing, highlights of which began showing up last winter.

        But before we get too carried away with municipal individualism, it should be pointed out that what Mr. Richardson refers to as “our concept of blue-green colors” comes from a set of “federal standard colors.” Most are in the Federal Highway Administration's “Predominantly Blue 35000 Series.”

        For the record, the aqua on the tapered bridge columns would be No. 35275.

        “What we wanted to do was to tie into some of the fabric of the environment,” Mr. Richardson says. That's why the bridge columns were painted aqua. “Something needed to be done to liven it up a bit.”

Colorful reactions

        “It's a little shocking,” says Randy Basselman, an interior designer with Bolce Interior Image Inc. in Longworth Hall, near the riverfront. “It seems they could have come up with something that added color and life without relying on turquoise.”

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        What would he have chosen? “Anything but turquoise.”

        Beau Bolce, owner of the company and the consultant who helped Hyde Park Square building owners choose exterior paint colors in the mid-1990s, says: “I do like the bridges, the cable structures. But the color looks a little dated — kind of '80s — not very sophisticated for a city Cincinnati's size.”

        He would have preferred more subtle shades with more gray pigment.

        “I like the colors under the ramps,” Mr. Bolce says. “But I would like to see more continuity” into other areas of the riverfront.

        Despite what is in style in the design world, the blue and blue-green hues are likely to make you feel better, says Nancy Holbrook, a Fort Mitchell color-therapy specialist and owner of Spice of Life Health Choices.

        “They couldn't have chosen better colors to use,” she says. “They are calming colors ... very healing ... for the highway, really a great thing to have.”

        Blues, she says, are good for the eyes, neck, jaw, voice, throat and thyroid gland. Greens are good for harmony, forgiveness, compassion and understanding.

        Most passersby seem to give the color choices a nod of approval.

        Brooke Phillips of Bridgetown says she noticed the bright aqua blue ramps right away. “I think it all looks pretty cool,” she says. “I don't think any other color would have made sense.”

        Towne Taxi driver and dispatcher John Rucker figured the steel under the ramps was painted different colors because the construction workers didn't have enough paint in one hue.

    If you were wondering what goes in 24 300-square-foot planter boxes on the platform bridges over Fort Washington Way, here's your answer:
   • Trees: Eight Colorado blue spruce; four Sargent crabapples; four juniper topiaries
   • Shrubs: 32 lilacs, 156 spirea (two varieties), 104 junipers, 56 taxus densiformis, 60 taxus everflow
   • Grasses: 24 pennisetum alopecuriodes (full size), 116 calamagrostis, 20 miscanthus gracillimus
   • Annuals: 2,000 blue salvias, 1,210 red geraniums, 360 white zinnias, 360 yellow dwarf melampodium Showstar, 920 Madagascar periwinkles, 320 white petunias.
        “I did notice they were different colors,” he says. “I just thought they ran out.”

Along comes green

        Cincinnati's design team consulted some of the country's leading experts to help envision the new riverfront. Among them:

        • Alex Kreiger, Chan Kreiger & Associates and head of Harvard University's graduate school of urban design, Cambridge, Mass.; instrumental in downtown Louisville and Pittsburgh projects and Boston's central artery (“Big Dig”) redevelopment.

        • Jim Cheng, KZF Inc. architect, Walnut Hills, at work on three new University of Cincinnati dormitories, recognized for UC's Eden Avenue Garage addition, a Miami University sciences building in Middletown and the pending renovation of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington.

        • San Francisco's George Hargreaves, landscape architect for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and author of UC's landscape master plan, at work on an 85-acre riverfront park in downtown Louisville.

        In Cincinnati, “We wanted to bring some of the feeling of green park space into the city,” Mr. Richardson says. The green leaves of shade trees — Asian Zelkovas and Londonplane trees — should help accomplish that.

        Londonplanes, related to the sycamore, have large distinctive leaves with lighter undersides and red-brown trunk scales that flake to show cream-colored inner bark. They grow to 100 feet, with an 80-foot spread.

        Zelkovas, often substituted for elm trees, reach 60 feet or more, with smooth gray bark and alternate, wavy toothed leaves with conspicuous veins that turn yellow or red in the fall.

        “Trees are an integral part of the plan,” Mr. Richardson says. In addition to providing color and shade, some of them, aligned along street curbs, will help define the north and south edges of Fort Washington Way. The cable bridges do the same for the east and west ends of the rectangle.

        In May, the Cincinnati Park Board will add 5,774 plants to flower boxes on the Race, Vine and Walnut Street bridges. Eventually, lids over a three-block section (centered at Vine Street) would provide additional green space.

Future of riverfront

        If everything on the drawing board for the riverfront actually is funded and built, it will be a happening place. Two new sports facilities, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a 52-acre riverfront park and The Banks development of shops, housing, entertainment and offices will create a new downtown district with its own identity.

        Urban planners say Cincinnati's central riverfront will be the place for pedestrians to be — and a colorful place at that.

        At night, the cable bridges will be lighted “as a symbol of Fort Washington Way,” Mr. Richardson said, and some streets will be illuminated by contemporary reflective light fixtures that bounce beams off curved steel panels at the top.


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