The title of this post says it all. Why does our somewhat lacklustre harbour bridge have to be painted the most uninspiring colour known to mankind? As far as monuments go it’s pretty damned blandiose. Can’t we paint it something a bit more, er, not grey?

I understand that the paint is there mostly for protective reasons rather than aesthetics, but my question is why can’t we have both? The way I figure it an appropriate industrial coating in some colour other than grey must be much the same cost and much the same to apply. After all, structures across the world are painted various colours just fine.

For example, the Eiffel Tower in Paris is a temporary structure made of iron and is 119 years old, but the French manage to change the paint colour periodically and still protect their historic monument. Every seven years they hold a public vote on what colour to go next. Obviously they stick to appropriate ‘monumental’ colours and avoid the pastels and neons, but it’s had a surprising number of variations from reddish brown through copper and mustard to the current chocolatey brown.

A selection of colours the Eiffel Tower has been painted in the past, with the current colour behind.

There are plenty of options for colour and we could likewise hold a vote. I like the idea of metallic bronzes or coppers, but things like green (think Statue of Liberty) or red (Golden Gate Bridge) might work too! So can’t we just pick a colour and use it instead of grey next time?

And while we’re at it, why not tart up the rest of it a bit? Some nice feature lighting could work to illuminate the structure, while some bluestone around the piers could be nice. Here’s a render from the folks at GetAcross of their skypath concept that shows one way to light the bridge up.


So here are a couple of dodgy Photoshop jobs I’ve come up with, I decided to leave the clip ons grey to draw attention to the original structure, but feel free to post your own images or suggestions.

Bronze with bluestone
A version with bright copper, my favourite
and a greenish weathered copper
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  1. The bridge itself is an ugly structure. I don’t think painting it a plain vibrant colour would do the job. If it’s to be painted, there needs to be a design to it rather than just painting the whole structure a single colour. However, I do think the bridge could do with some colourful lights. It would go so well with how lovely the city looks at night, looking across from the Shore.

  2. The colour of the Golden Gate bridge is ‘international orange’:
    As for the HB, I’d choose the nightlighting over a new colour anytime…

  3. As I understand it, the bridge is gradually repainted bit by bit over the course of several years, and by the time the entire programme is complete it’s back to the beginning again. A different paint job would be really interesting, but I guess we’d have to deal with a patchwork bridge for several years, every time we wanted to change the colour.

    By the way, seeing those guys dressed in their heavy-duty painting gear, hanging off the bottom of the bridge sand-blasting the old paint off gave me a new appreciation for my cushy desk-job. Certainly looks like one of the toughest maintenance jobs out there, although the view isn’t too shabby.

    1. That’s a bit of a myth actually, that they paint it from one end and by the time they’ve finished they have to start again. You hear the same thing about the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Eiffel tower. From what I can find it takes about 12 months to complete a repaint and that lasts about four years before they start again. Apparently when sand blasting off the old paint a few workers started to develop lead poisoning and they had to shift to a stripping method that didn’t create airborne dust.

      So yeah, for a year or so we might have a work in progress, but hey like the cheese guys say, good things take time!

      1. Same is also said for the Forth Rail bridge however Wikipedia has this to say

        A recent repainting of the bridge commenced with a contract award in 2002, for a schedule of work which was completed on 9 December 2011.[26] It involved the application of 230,000 m2 of paint at a total cost of £130M. This new coat of paint is expected to have a life of at least 25 years, and perhaps as long as 40, thus removing the need for constant repainting.

  4. Last thing we need is another transport infrastructure contribution to Auckland’s already egregious levels of unnecessary light pollution.

  5. I actually think this is important to do as it will counter the misconception that the bridge is “old” and we need to spend $5bn replacing it.

    How would you get the bluestone effect? If you use actual bluestone wouldn’t that add to the load on the piers? Would like to see the coloured clip on option as well. Could also look at illuminations that can change colour, a la Sky Tower, but concur with Christopher T that you don’t want to over do it.

  6. Don’t underestimate the difference in price that the shade makes. I’m involved in community theatre, and we try to avoid red, and particularly green, because the paint is very significantly (like, 20% or more) more costly than neutral tones. Bright green for a floor will cost us about a third more in the paint budget than using a matte black or a dark grey.

  7. Can’t say I have an issue with the existing colour at all, it’s most likely meant to look like the material it’s made of.

    As we all know however, when it comes to putting colour on infrastructure some people hate what others love.

    1. I think the ‘battleship grey’ is just the standard untinted colour the marine protectant finish comes in. I used to have a summer job in a heavy engineering firm painting structural girders and brackets, and they all got painted that same grey unless they were going to be visible after construction.

      If it’s meant to look like the material it’s made of, why paint it the colour of concrete? Why not paint it the colour of steel then? Steel isn’t matte grey.

      Sure we would have to be very careful with the colour, but luckily the wonders of computer graphics can let us try out all sorts of options and put them to the public. If one is a clear winner then we can go for it. I’m pretty confident we can find one that just about everyone likes better than grey.

    2. I’ll put in a vote for battleship grey, or maybe even darker for the steel truss sections. For the piers I think just leave them as is.

      I do like the idea of coloured under lighting for at night, after all it is a bit of a makeout point for some of us engineer types.

      1. I think a change as simple as a bit darker on the steel truss and leaving the clip ons lighter grey could make a big improvement in the aesthetics. The original arch has quite a nice shape to it and it gets a bit flattened and lost amongst the clip ons. Picking it out with colour would reverse that to an extent.

        Sydney’s bridge looks pretty spectacular at night, and that’s really just floodlighting aimed to reveal the structure.

  8. Much as I like the local basalt and wish it was used in more often by architects and engineers I can’t understand why you would want to clad the concrete piers of an appropriately functional late modernist bridge with a fake skin. Rather like the way the Auckland Central Police station, a perfectly acceptable mid-60s Ministry of Works essay in Italian modernism, was inappropriately suburbanised with the addition of a pitched roof and given a coat of Dulux magnolia paint in the 1990s. The last time this sort of cosmetic stupidity occurred was with the redundant granite pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Paint the bridge whatever colour – I’d go for scarlet – but leave its aesthetic and structural integrity intact!

    1. Personally I think concrete piers with tacked on steel brackets are ugly, thats why.

      And I think the pylons on the Sydney Bridge make it look fantastic. It would look like an ugly functional hunk of steelwork without them (sound familiar?).

  9. We will have too see what it looks like once that tolled cycle path gets put on there, Will we see some blue/green glass tube running along the side of it.

    1. That’s a good point, if we end up with a very modern plasticy glass addition with LED lighting and the like, then traditional colours like bronze and copper and finishes like bluestone might look funny. The skypath (if it happens, which looks like it probably will) would have to be taken into account for any redecorating of the bridge.

  10. I think it should be painted to resemble a zebra. Or with a leopard pattern. And the piers could be covered in woodgrained veneer.

    1. Obi’s on the right track: I’ve long been fascinated by ‘Dazzle Camouflage’ used extensively by WWI and, to a lesser extent WWII navies. As it says here:

      “Whether or not it was an effective deterrent is debatable, but in its time dazzle camouflage did much to improve crew morale, and it sure made the ships look cool!”

      And as our bridge is appallingly inelegant I think it would vastly improved by having its forms visually disrupted. Especially the out of scale flanks of the clip-ons, which offer the broadest areas for decoration. Breaking up the flat planes on the elevations would help rebalance the above deck superstructure with its below deck mass.

      We should definitely do what the military did back then and hand the job to artists. Engineers to make sure it stays up and lasts; Artists to make it look cool.

      Who knows we might even be able to be proud of the thing. No *[email protected]££&## Hobbits.

      1. If you want to hide the bridge… All you’d need is a talented plasterer and a large quantity of orange paint and Auckland would have one of these: . People from all over the world to marvel at our “natural” wonder. They’d scratch their heads trying to figure out how people traveled to the North Shore without any apparent connection apart from the ferrys.

    1. Yes, get the artists in.

      Rather than paint the bridge, light it! Why is the Harbour Bridge not lit up at night anyway? Sydney Harbour Bridge is lit every night and it looks stunning. The footbridge over the motorway across Onehunga Bay is lit up every night so why can’t the Auckland Harbour Bridge be lit?

  11. Copper and the bluestone piers. Just because the bridge has been pig ugly since day 1 doesn’t mean we can’t improve it.

    Plus copper paint may tarnish, giving us a free colour change!

  12. Why not just paint the clip-ons and leave the truss structure grey as it is? I’d paint it white or a bright colour of some kind to stand out in daylight. I think it’s a nice arc/line and deserves prominence. Would presumably be quicker and easier than painting the trusses as well..

  13. I’m having trouble seeing much difference between the various renderings. Most of the time the bridge is out of sight out of mind, unless you go to the Shore a lot.

    Anyway, I feel some affection for the unloveliness of various aspects of Auckland’s waterfront – I like the port (a city that doesn’t pretend that it does something else for a living – cool), and even the bridge – besides which, I don’t think the bridge’s colour is the real issue – it’s just not very elegant, that’s all. My favourite suggestion in the comments is camouflage.

  14. Wow I was just thinking about this a couple of days ago… I’d like a classic scheme.. white/teal/blue – can’t go wrong with those colours. And you don’t need to paint the entire bridge in one hit – start with the big blank surfaces that are easier to paint.

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