Friday, December 06, 2013

Silicon Forest

Here are a few photos of Silicon Forest, the solar powered earth-o-licious tree structures at the Interstate/Rose Quarter MAX station. TriMet's Yellow Line art guide describes it:

Brian Borrello presents a three-part metaphor for displacement and change.
  • Illuminated metal trees generate their own electricity from solar panels.
  • A virtual campfire flickers with light at night, surrounded by stainless steel stump seats.
  • Light filtering through colored glass on shelter roofs simulates the dappled light of a forest.
  • Concrete tree rings in the platform symbolize the forest once abundant on the site.
  • Custom guardrails feature branching tree limbs and roots.

So it was created by the same guy who created People's Bike Library of Portland, and the blue ox feet at the Kenton MAX stop, and a number of other public art doodads around town that I haven't covered yet. Apparently he designed the entire MAX station, not just the trees, but I didn't realize that at the time and only have photos of the trees.

The usual idea with MAX station art, on any of the various MAX lines, is that it's supposed to be somehow inspired by or related to the surrounding neighborhood. I don't really envy the task here. Today it's just sports arenas and mass transit, and making MAX art about being a MAX hub might be too self-referential even for Portland. Until the early 1960s there was a thriving majority-black neighborhood here, before the bulldozers of urban renewal came and swept it away. That would be an obvious choice for a theme, but the excesses of urban renewal aren't exactly a happy, self-esteem-boosting topic, and TriMet probably wouldn't go for that. Maybe "metaphor for displacement and change" is an oblique reference to the area's history, I'm not really sure.

In any case, the name "Silicon Forest" has been a nickname for the Portland-area tech industry, coined (and trademarked) by Lattice Semiconductor in 1984 and swiftly adopted by local boosters, by analogy with "Silicon Valley". Though a proper pedantic engineer (such as, um, myself) would point out that the industry's westside office parks typically replaced farmland, not forests, technically. We do, at least, have a decent claim on the "Silicon" part of the name, since the design & initial manufacturing of Intel chips happens here. And the Trail Blazers (who play in the nearby Moda Center) are owned by a certain Microsoft mega-billionaire, and Microsoft products generally rely on said Intel chips. As far as I know that's the one tech industry connection to this particular spot in Portland.

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