Tacoma Dome Station Construction

Tacoma Dome Station Construction 8" × 8" Acrylic on birch panel

Tacoma Dome Station Construction
8" × 8" Acrylic on birch panel

Spring and summer have gone but the new Amtrak terminal is still under construction. Each day before my morning commute I have watched workers build a retaining wall, pour a concrete passenger platform, rip up the old platform and put it back together, and lately weld the superstructure for a passenger shelter.

It took a couple of weeks to build that retaining wall. Underneath the concrete there are large steel I-beams driven into the earth. Between the beams, fitted into the slots made by the “I” shape, are large slabs of wood. This lumber was stacked in great cubes along the wall. The workmen trimmed this lumber to length by hand, with a chainsaw. Each piece slid down in between the I-beams. Sometimes they would level the pieces out with a small shim. I never saw them make a mistake, even though they completely eye-balled each cut.

At the time this work was going on my work was not going particularly well. I was jealous of the clear and obvious progress these guys made every day. I am sure some days were better than others, but at the end of each day there was more retaining wall than there was the day before. Today the wall is here. Yesterday it was back there. Tomorrow it will be over there. Working on software can often feel abstract and phony by comparison.

This new Amtrak station will be next door to the commuter rail station. Both of these have been grafted into the semi-historic Freighthouse Square which a century ago was a warehouse at the end of a freight railway. Today it’s full of funky shops and fast food. There is a very promising looking Mexican restaurant there. It’s a weird ramshackle place. It’s very Tacoma. Looking forward while holding on to the past.

Back in June I arrived to wait for the train into Seattle and watched workers tying rebar into place so that the new passenger platform could be poured on top. They crouched before the new retaining wall, and above them is the freshly scraped hillside that leads up to a Best Western and the famous Tacoma Dome. I snapped several photos on the sly. For this painting I used elements from a couple of my photos. I used Pixelmator to rearrange the perspective a bit. I like how the under-construction landscape came together as repeating layers of blue and orange. You might have to squint a bit - but the sky is blue - of course, the earth is orangey brown, the concrete is blue-grey, the lumber concrete forms are burnt orange, the asphalt and gravel are blue grey, and the railroad tracks are rusted orange. I liked the contrast between the depth of the landscape layers against their graphical horizontal stacking. Less formally (romantically) I liked the one worker alone focused on his job. He was in a state of flow - I’ve had that. I was slightly jealous of his work, alone, in the morning sun. I was not jealous of his future back-ache.


This painting is acrylic on an 8″ square birch panel. I love the way acrylic paint behaves on these panels. You can apply thin paint and achieve watercolor like effects, or go thick, and build up a heavy impasto. You can lay down a wash of color, which stays damp while soaked into the grain of the wood, then build heavier color on top which blends into the color beneath, but just a little. The birch has a nice warm, but neutral, color so there’s no need to under-paint. The panel is light enough that pencil sketches are clear, but dark enough that you have contrast with lighter colors and whites. I also like the “object-ness” of these little panels. Even though it’s very small and light, it feels like a ‘thing’ in a way that’s different from a store bought canvas.

Work in progress

Work in progress

Overall this painting took about 8 hours to complete from set-up to varnish. It was nice to have a day off.

Michael Barrett

Tacoma, WA 98402