Brian McBay: White to Spinach White: #e3e8da

Other Colours Brian McBay: White to Spinach White: #e3e8da


1. I spent one summer as an intern with the city engineering department. At that time, the department was steeped in the timely delivery of all things for the 2010 Olympics, and that meant the replacement of all the city's old brown-painted wood bus shelters with glass ones more suitable to a global audience. It turned out the design of the bus shelters was not by a local engineer, but by JC Decaux, an advertising firm who provided a suite of "street furniture", in exchange for 20-years of exclusive rights to advertising. And it turned out that my internship would be centered on a failed exchange with this advertising giant.

Key to the advertising-for-street-furniture deal was the provision of tourist-friendly “Automated Public Toilets" (APTs)—a 'total solution' for unattended public bathrooms, with a self-cleaning interior and a time-controlled occupancy sensor. Somehow when installing the APTs, they neglected to account for the people living in the Downtown Eastside, where thousands of people are homeless.The first toilets experienced constant maintenance issues, leading JC Decaux to propose a cash transfer back to the City in exchange for defaulting on the supply of the remaining toilets. It turned out the APTs were being used for more than inconvenient tourist needs, but as spaces of privacy and for cleaning, washing, drinking and cooking. My supervisor encouraged me to be defensive with the design, referring to gentrification as "the G word” and to homelessness, drug use and sex work as "untoward activities". I proposed toilets that would feature a washbasin on the exterior of the unit and he did not like it.

2. In 2016, 221A made an application to the City of Vancouver to replace our storefront facade. We were summarily rejected; our proposed design simply didn' t meet the heritage requirements of the Chinatown area district. Our building fell within the general "Heritage C" classification–any new design would therefore be subject to either a) restoration of the storefront as found in 1912 photo documentation or b) the use of 'modern' materials, such as aluminum and glass panelling, to mimic the historic placement of windows and doors.

The design we proposed was a 24" thick wall, finished with a fine white stucco and framed by a strip of pale pink tile. The exterior would have had two large cut-outs. The first was for the entryway, to be fit with a sliding glass door, not dissimilar to those of convenience stores. The second cut-out would be set inwards–the window ledge becoming public seating–and would allow light to filter into our space. Finally, the storefront would also house the most important feature: a drinking fountain that would give passersby free access to a cherished and refreshing resource, for the health of our society. 

3. The Vancouver Heritage Foundation, an organization created in 1992 by the City of Vancouver Mayor and Councillors, is a non-profit that has mostly spent its time protecting a European colonial legacy. In 1999, the VHF in partnership with Benjamin Moore, began a program known as "True Colours", a built-environment painting program that provides a cash grant up to $7,500 per project to restore the exterior paint colours of heritage buildings. A 'Heritage Consultant' is dispatched to come to your home or building and scientifically determine the original colour scheme, then recommend a scheme for your project based on their existing list of accepted colours.

“Lying unseen for decades under layers of paint and hidden in black and white photographs was a whole world of colour waiting to be discovered. The True Colours palette contains 35 original colours that reflect the people and places of early Vancouver.”

Oxford Ivory, Craftsman Cream, Pendrell Cream, Harris Cream, Dunbar Buff, Edwardian Buff, Edwardian Cream, Mount Pleasant Buff, Strathcona Gold, Comox Gold, Kitsilano Gold, Mount Pleasant Tan, Bute Taupe, Dunbar Grey, Haddington Grey, Comox Sage, Victorian Peridot, Pendrell Green, Comox Green, Vancouver Green, Harris Green, Pendrell Verdigris, Edwardian Pewter, Point Grey, Harris Grey, Edwardian Porch Grey, Strathcona Red, Mellish Rust, Pendrell Red, Hastings Red, Mellish Mahogany, Craftsman Brown, Harris Brown, Strathcona Mahogany and Gloss Black.

4. Spinach White is the colour we painted the walls at 221A’s Pollyanna 圖書館 Library.

Other Colours

Other Colours was conceived in response to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s True Colours, a program that offers grants to incentivize homeowners to restore heritage homes to their ‘true’ Victorian, Edwardian and War Time era (1880–1930) colours, with paint swatches such as “Oxford Bluff” and “Edwardian Pewter”. Canada’s colonial history is a violent history that must be questioned, not ceremoniously replicated. The True Colours program has been deployed largely in support of the gentrification of inner city neighbourhoods, particularly those with a history of immigrant struggle where homes were painted colours that represented diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences of the city. 221A led a Research Initiative with 10 contributors who were asked to provide a swatch for an “Other Colours palette” that would offer alternatives to the True Colours program based on the contributors’ lived experience, cultural traditions and artistic practices. Each Other Colours palette selection is detailed by the contributor with an original text or artwork. This collection of short prose, poetry and social history, printed by Brick Press as an Artist’s Book, offers a more pluralistic account of the city’s built environment and identity.