A Bridge of a Different Color: Probing NYC’s Public Works Palette

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Deep Cool Red or Pulaski Red? Munsell Gray or George Washington Bridge Gray? Such are the decisions faced by the 11 members of New York City’s Public Design Commission. Established in 1898 as the Art Commission, the design review agency is composed of an architect (at present, James Stewart Polshek), a landscape architect (Signe Nielsen), a painter (Byron Kim), a sculptor (Alice Aycock), and three lay members (James Stuckey, Guy Nordenson, and Pentagram’s Paula Scher), all of whom are nominated by the Fine Arts Federation and appointed by the Mayor. In Sunday’s City section, The New York Times talked to Kim about the city’s official color palette of seven hues referred to by their nicknames: Deep Cool Red, Federal Blue, George Washington Bridge Gray, Aluminum Green, Pulaski Red, Munsell Gray, and Dark Green.

“We can’t have every color, or even dozens, because of maintenance,” Mr. Kim said. “The Department of Transportation has to keep so much volume of these colors on hand, it would be almost impossible for them to add even one more.”

When Mr. Kim started in 2003, the approved palette contained only three colors. “We kept having to assign Pulaski Red, Munsell Gray, or Dark Green,” he recalled. “It was such a small range that when the D.O.T. gave us the opportunity to ask, we pleaded for some more vibrant colors.”

But not overly vibrant. A bright yellow, for example, would be “too crazy.” Kim himself is partial to George Washington Bridge Gray and Federal Blue because of their “strong relationship with the sky.”