Ink-jet trompe l’oeil buildings

I spent the last year in Europe, mostly in Munich, and I had a wonderful opportunity to visit several countries as a tourist before returning to the USA.

My wife and I became vagabonds after my final semester teaching at Hochschule München. We traveled mostly by train, and we stayed in hotels and rented vacation apartments. In each city we visited, we learned the local transit system and took buses, metro trains and trams to get around. We walked a lot.

In August, we took a short airplane flight from Amsterdam to Bergen, Norway. When we landed in Bergen we were pleasantly surprised by the sign at the airport there that has a curious punctuation mark on the end.

Oh my god! I’m in BERGEN? (Perhaps I thought I was in Buenos Aires?)

Is this because the Norwegians are not sure you’re in Bergen, or is it that the you are not sure if you are in Bergen? In any event, I have never seen a sign like this at any airport in the world.

Public transportation from the airport in Bergen to the downtown is inexpensive and quick. We dragged our luggage onto the tram and headed into town. (I became very fond of the Yiddish word “schlep” on this journey, as it is much more descriptive of my attitude toward baggage.)

Once in our hotel, we began a four-day stay with all the tourist trappings: the fjord tour, the funicular (and a hike back down), the cable car, etc. Since we were in the heart of the harbor area, we had a view of the old town, where historic buildings are lined up along the waterfront. This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is deserving of its title. (They also deserve a UNESCO World Heritage Cinnamon Roll Site title!)

Two of the buildings along Bryggen in Bergen are wrapped in ink-jet printed fabric.

The street called Bryggen faces south along the docks and features a line of small businesses that were once boarding houses. They are Bergen’s most charming structures. I took a photo from a boat as we left the harbor. The next day, while walking along Bryggen, I noticed that several of the buildings are in fact ink-jet printed façades that look like antique buildings. These cover scaffolding and construction – a clever way to maintain the World Heritage of the street while the buildings are undergoing renovations.

The buildings are printed on a sturdy fabric, meant not only to look pleasant from the outside, but strong enough to deflect falling debris, protecting the public from danger.

I have highlighted the two ink-jet building façades here. The one on the left is really obvious; the one on the right blends in nicely with its neighbors. Click to enlarge.

I have seen much larger printed scaffold coverings, one in Paris that was itself a trompe l’oeil work that looked like the original building underneath. It’s very clever stuff!

I assume that these huge coverings are printed on Vutek printers or similar machines. They are, on close examination, sewn to fit the façade of the structure. One of the coverings in Bergen was laced to the scaffolding to prevent it from wind damage and to keep it looking nice from the outside.

I wonder what happens to these coverings when the work is done. Are they discarded? Are they reused on other buildings? I would be curious to know if there is an aftermarket for printed scaffold coverings.

About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and was a Guest Professor at Hochschule München from September, 2021 to September, 2022. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
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