PDX Carpet

Portlanders have a tradition when visiting their airport: taking a picture of their feet. It’s not to show off their shoes, but rather, what’s under them. They are documenting the famous PDX airport carpet.

carpet 2
Credit: Julie Sabatier

The PDX carpet is a loud, decidedly 80s geometric pattern over a vast sea of teal. The carpet, it is said, is based on the way the runways and lights look from the air traffic control tower; another story has it as representative of the air traffic control radar screen.

carpet feet 1
Credit: Julie Sabatier

Wherever the design comes from, one thing is for sure: the carpet is very, very beloved. There are even signs in the airport now saying, “Tweet your feet!” and an official #pdxcarpet hashtag.

The carpet has inspired some Portlanders, including Emma Milkin, to get a tattoo of the design.

PDX Tattoo
Credit: Julie Sabatier

Another Portland resident, Jeremy Dunn, created PDX carpet socks.

socks on carpet
Credit: Julie Sabatier

Now, shops at the PDX airport sell all kinds of wares emblazoned with the carpet pattern: t-shirts, coffee mugs, throw pillows, tote bags, stickers, key chains, bike helmets. There’s even a PDX Carpet IPA from Portland brewery Rogue.

Credit: Avery Trufelman

It is beloved by locals and having buy-in from the airport itself. But even so, the carpet’s days are numbered.

PDX Carpet Removal
Credit: Julie Sabatier

The carpet is being replaced.

Work crews use a machine called a Panther to tear up the old carpet. With thirteen acres to clear, the airport projects that the old carpet will be out by November 2015.

Four 1000 square yard pieces will be made available to businesses or individuals with a plan for how to keep the pattern alive.

But in the PDX airport, the carpet will disappear.

new and old 2
Credit: Julie Sabatier

No, the carpet will not be replaced with the same beloved pattern. The decision to replace the carpet was made back in 2008, before all the foot selfies and #pdxcarpet.

The new design is reminiscent of the old carpet, but it’s a darker green and has a more intricate pattern. The busyness of the new design actually helps hide dirt and other wear and tear.  In fact, there’s an extra-busy version of the new design that PDX will lay in higher-traffic areas.

So far, Portlanders are far less enthusiastic about the new floor pattern. You just can’t manufacture a cult following for an airport carpet. It has to happen on its own.

new carpet 2
Credit: Julie Sabatier



This story was reported by Julie Sabatier, host of the podcast Rendered (formerly Destination DIY). Julie spoke with carpet superfan Emma Milkin; Jeremy Dunn, designer of PDX carpet socks; Robin McCaffrey, engineering project manager at the Port of Portland; Mike Mackley of 4M Floor Covering, and Michelle Vo of Hennebery Eddy.


“Children” — Hauschka
“Child of the Jago” — Lukid
“Meniere’s Vertigo” — Melodium
“Run, Alive, Run” — Felix LaBand
“Tekno Love Song” — CocoRosie
“You’re Gone” — Melodium
“Maybe It’s The End Of Time” — Melodium
“Lichen” — Melodium
“Suture” — Heather Woods Broderick
“The Color of Sunrise” — Lullatone
“Feel it all Around” — Washed Out
“I’ve Been Here Before” — Melodium

  1. Merlin

    The new carpet seems to have a windsurfing motif. Intentional?

    LOL! “You ruined EVERYTHING!” Totally.

  2. Sara

    @Merlin – I think it’s supposed to be evocative of the canopy outside the front of the terminal building rather than windsurfing.

  3. Kit

    The colour and busyness of the new carpet makes it look dirtier than the old carpet already.

  4. @Julia !!!!!!! I would love a Victor Papanek podcast !!!!! This is best idea I’ve heard in a while. I’m Either about Victor directly, or about Nomadic Furniture.

    There are lots of people obsessed with airport carpets. This being one of the best collection:

    Personally I love the Dayton Ohio(home to the Wright Brothers) airport carpet.

  5. Frank

    It is easy for me to say as some one who has never flown into or out of PDX, but I actually like the new design better. I think it is nice homage to the old design, with a more pleasant (and functional) background. I also like that new design has a little more movement to it which seems appropriate for an airport.

  6. robyn

    I’ve always loved PDX though I’ve never been in love with the old carpet design. But the new design… eek! Chaos!

  7. Chris

    Hmm…have to say I really don’t like the new design. Old design is pretty great though, sad they didn’t decide to keep it.

    Also…nice Indy boots!

  8. Eric

    Thinking the carpet designers and vexillographers should have gotten together when designing the carpets. Does PDX have its own flag?

  9. zac stafford

    I have an idea that could solve the whole problem. Looking for the contact information for the woman who handles the new carpet project….

  10. For some strange reason I find myself drawn towards the design of the old carpet. Almost like it’s an alien sign or message that if I stare at long enough it’s hidden meaning will become clear! I expanded a picture of it on my tablet and placed it on my floor. I now have my own 7×5 inch remnant!

  11. Brian Rysdorp

    If the original carpet showed too much dirt I don’t understand why they couldn’t of just created a new design that kept the same geometric pattern but placed it on a darker background like a darker blue, a black or a dark gray. The color of the pattern could of stayed the same except lighten the dark blue “runway” lines to maintain visual contrast with a new darker background. The carpet would of maintained a consistency with the original theme and looked even more like a night time view.

  12. Taylor

    I didn’t know about the cult following but I love the wacky old carpet. I’ve been away from Portland for 2 years and I’m somewhat sad that when I finally come back the carpet will be replaced by one with a far worse color scheme. lol.

  13. They touched on this a bit, but I feel like it’s really important to explain the sense of affection and attachment many Portlanders have to their city. It’s not just saying “Look, I’m doing the thing!”- It’s telling your social media network that you’re home and you’re so happy to be back. There’s also the fact that PDX is rated one of the best airports consistently. Ha ha.

    I’m not big into things like this normally, but I always do the foot selfie out of appreciation for my return to my beloved city.

  14. Sergio

    “It’s not to show off their shoes, but rather, what’s under them.” That first pic looked like a pair of Alden Indies. If I could afford those bad boys, I would be taking pictures of my shoes anywhere and everywhere.

  15. Sylvia

    I just listened to this episode today, and as a Venezuelan immigrant in Chile, it brought back memories from our very own version of the PDX carpet: in Venezuela’s international airport there is a mosaic that runs from wall to wall (I mean, along the floor and up both walls) through the full length of the airport. It’s a cinetic art piece by artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, and it’s an important character in the departure pictures of us all exiled Venezuelans. You can go to Instagram and check #cruzdiez and #maiquetia to find them: lots and lots of very colorful primary color pictures, with shoes, or with the people with their bags, about to leave their relatives and go search for a brighter future abroad. As one instagram user puts it:

    “The colorful floor, which has been witness of so many goodbyes, has a name, and it is “Cromointerferencia de color aditivo” (maybe ‘chromatic interference of additive color’?), an art piece by the great Carlos Cruz-Diez, and first unveiled in 1978. It is colloquially known as “the Maiquetía floor” (for the name of the airport) or “the floor of farewells”, by being part of a ritual in which participate all of those who travel out without a return ticket. Its bright colors can be seen as somewhat ironic, given that so many tears have been shed over it, and countless families have parted with their loved ones there.”

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