PDX Carpet: Fame, selfies and life after the airport
How the Portland Airport carpet became famous and why so many mourn its removal.
PORTLAND, Ore. – For over 20 years, the carpet at Portland Airport lived a life that was largely out of the public eye.
The teal carpet, with a repeating pattern of navy, red, and purple was not often noticed by the people who trudged over it, caught planes, or returned from trips. At most, travelers noticed the bright design of the mid-80s, especially as it was becoming increasingly outdated.
But then something happened. Some say it was a Twitter hashtag. Some say Instagram. But for one reason or another, the carpet became a sensation.
“It’s the million dollar question,” said Kama Simonds, port spokeswoman for the port of Portland. “Which came first, the carpet follows or Instagram selfies?”
Simonds said the PDX carpet really took off about 18 months ago. Now the carpet has not just one, but two Facebook pages with more than 12,000 fans. Thousands of people follow the carpet on Twitter and many more have tagged photos of their feet while visiting the airport with the hashtag #pdxcarpet.
But like many tragic stories, the carpet’s death scene was written long before it became a star.
How the PDX carpet became famous
In an event that seemed completely unremarkable at the time, Portland Airport installed a new carpet in 1987.
The carpet was designed by the local architecture firm SRG Partnership, Inc. The staff toured the airport and decided to use the view from the traffic control tower of the runways and taxi rides as inspiration for the graphic pattern of the carpet.
Yet few took notice of the design.
“I don’t remember people talking much about the carpet other than saying, ‘Oh, you have carpet,'” said Simonds.
It is estimated that 320 million people have walked the carpet over the years and eventually the carpet began to show its age.
“There are places where it’s so worn that you can only see the back of the rug,” Simonds said. “There are a lot of stains that have been ground in over time. And then there is chewing gum that’s just worn out.”
An inspection in 2006 found at least half of the carpet to be in poor or faulty condition. The airport decided to replace 13 acres of the old carpet with a new design. The replacement carpet was ordered shortly afterwards in 2007.
The official tearing of the carpet began on January 23, 2015. The process should take a few months and the new carpet will cover the area of 10 soccer fields.
But by the time the new carpet installation was set in stone, the old carpet had gotten the kind of Hollywood celebrities that PR agencies pay to grow. It is arguably the most famous airport carpet in the world.
The New York Times, NBC Nightly News, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today have all written croaking articles about it. Celebrities have taken “carpet selfies” and writers have taken graphic design poetically.
There’s even a booming industry around the carpet. You can buy PDX carpet socks, bags, shoes, shirts, and scarves.
Related: New beer that looks like a PDX carpet – doesn’t taste good
Alan Cassinelli, who owns PDXCarpet.com, said he was amazed at the number of orders he has received for items with PDX carpet designs.
And while sad to see the carpet go, he believes that removing the carpet really fuels the current obsession.
“With the move starting this Friday, people are being asked to get something that will remind them of the carpet once it’s gone,” he said.
Remove a piece of airport history
This removal officially began on January 23 at 11 a.m. Around 50 media professionals from local and national branches gathered to see the carpet being torn out.
Employees at 4 M Floorcovering in Portland tore out long pieces of the carpet, rolled it up, and transported it to a storage room.
There was media hype befitting a carpet of this celebrity.
After the ceremonial tearing on Friday, the removal takes place mostly overnight on weekdays until November 2015.
During Friday’s event, the only question everyone wanted to answer was: will the public be able to own a piece of the old carpet?
Simonds says yes. The airport will collect suggestions from people who want to do something with the material. You then give them 1,000 square feet of the carpet to sell, give away, or reuse.
In the future, people could have PDX carpet floor mats, coasters, or even framed artwork – but fans will have to wait and see. The airport said it had started taking ideas.
A new carpet, similar to the old carpet
The new carpet at PDX naturally has big shoes to fill. Little did the Portland Airport know that the carpet was going to be such a sensation when they commissioned the new design, which is similar – but not the same – to the old one.
Simonds said the color scheme is purposely similar, however.
“We didn’t want it to be this drastic. We didn’t want to switch from a repetitive pattern to a floral one. There are elements of the design that we wanted to keep,” she said.
Like the old carpet, the new one is also inspired by graphic elements from the airport. Instead of the control tower and taxi rides, this time around the airport’s curved architecture was the inspiration, including the glass roof that protects travelers as they walk from the parking garage to the terminal.
Although the ceremonial carpet removal began on January 23, new carpet patches have already been installed. The Port of Portland tested a few swatches of color in the Oregon Marketplace, a high-traffic area where they could see how various manufacturers’ new carpet designs were holding up and which shade of green they liked the most.
The darkest carpet wins. It’s forest green with curved lines of yellow, red, and blue.
The design is one that Simonds hopes will ultimately symbolize the same sense of place and love for Portland as the old carpet.
It could only be 20 more years.