Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Is it turquoise? Is it teal? Whichever it is, Portlanders have strong feelings about PDX's beloved—and soon-to-go—carpet.
Portland may never get an answer to a question that has puzzled residents for almost 30 years. Is the carpet in Portland International Airport more of a teal blue or a teal green?
Starting this month, officials at PDX, home of the most beloved airport carpet in the world, will begin tearing out some 14 acres of the kind-of blue, sort-of green rug. Portlandia is not having an easy time of it.
Tried getting my flight moved so that I could see the carpet before it's all gone @pdxcarpet— Riley Rasmussen (@rasmussenriley) January 9, 2015
Portland Monthly has extensively profiled and memorialized the carpet, which was designed by SRG Architects in 1987. The composition reportedly reflects the airport's intersecting runways; the color scheme most definitely bucks the tradition of using neutral colors for something more in keeping with the city's quirky Pacific Northwestern identity. For a carpet pattern, it almost looks like a Suprematist painting.
For travelers who spend approximately zero time dwelling on airport carpet patterns when they travel, Portland's allegiance to such an overlooked piece of interior decor can be mystifying. The airport's carpet has inspired art. Socks. Koozees. Shirts, pillows, stationery. And lots and lots of social media presence: There's a PDX carpet Instagram account, a surprising number of Twitter accounts, and a popular hashtag.
Last year, residents took the time to say farewell to the PDX pattern and condemn Portland's "airport carpet replacement fascists." One woman even had the carpet's criss-crossing hashed lines tattooed on her back.
Maybe Portland's devotion shouldn't be so surprising to the rest of us. For starters, it's Portland: Isn't worshipping a carpet pattern perfectly consistent with the city's national profile? More seriously, airport carpet is something that some people not only notice but pay a lot of attention to. The website Carpets for Airports is exactly what you'd think: a library of carpets from airports across the planet.
"A three-frame Jacquard Wilton with a one-hundred percent B.C.F. Nylon BASF-Zeftron 2000 ZX yarn, the carpet of BDA both comforts and interrogates the identity of the weary traveler," reads the entry for L.F. Wade International Airport in Bermuda. While the site trades in the technical argot of airport carpet, its authors don't hesitate to take flight as writers.
"The luminous corduroy threads that create the ever-so-subtle optic variations of [Toulouse-Blagnac Airport] also pay homage to the southern city's role as a center of viniculture," an entry from France reads. "The French phrase être grisé (literally, "to be grey") means to be tipsy. TLS is thus a manifold artistic pleasure."
Fittingly, PDX earns one of the most loving entries on the site:
Neo-Suprematist paean to Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, or retro-pixellated tribute to '70s arcade game 'Pong'? PDX encompasses both high and low cultures seamlessly, albeit with visible seams. Certainly it seems to echo Malevich's statement that carpets should be made for carpets' sake alone, regardless of the pleasure or comfort they create. "Airport carpets do not need us and have never needed us since the stars first shone in the sky," stated Malevich, shortly before bursting into tears.
Compare that to the entry for Shreveport Airport (SHV) in Louisiana, a brief history of the prison shiv that would seem to reflect the author's quite negative feelings about that airport's carpet. Maybe PDX carpet really is the best.
The PDX carpet isn't departing Portland for good: Airport officials told The New York Times that some residents will be able to acquire bundles of carpet after they've pulled it up. Still, Portlanders will have to say goodbye to the carpet in the airport this year, starting this month. And we'll never know just what color it is.