The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 12

THE ON AND OFF RELATIONSHIP OF
ARCHITECTURE WITH COLOUR
by UDO SCHLIEMANN

n 2019, we are celebrating the centenary of the Bauhaus. No other school has had such an
influence on the development of art, design and architecture.
While trying to survive the tensions of being in the crossfire of politics, industry and
ideological streams, the teachers at the Bauhaus, under the visionary leadership of Walter
Gropius, were radically breaking away from the thinking and colourful visual expressions of
the time. In order to build a new and pure society out of the disaster and senselessness of the
First World War, liberated from the restraints of the past hierarchical system, and integrated
in the fast developing industrialization process, Gropius's holistic view of a Gesamtkunstwerk,
the unity of art and technique, led to new experimental ways of teaching and designing. It is
well documented that the Bauhaus changed its focus several times during the three phases
of the school, from Weimar (1919-25) to Dessau (1925-32) to Berlin (1932-33), in addition to
the various directions pursued by faculty members. Despite these challenges, we can still see
the results of their teaching today, especially in architecture.
The clean white box, erected from prefabricated concrete walls, flat roofs and metal frames
for windows, reduced the cost and time to build houses for large developments. And the
demand was huge as, during war time, housing programs came almost to a standstill. The
white rectangular boxes were not a new invention. The short lived de Stijl movement, which
started in 1917 in Holland with protagonists such as Mondrian, van der Leck, Rietveld, Oud
and Theo van Doesburg, allowed only vertical and horizontal straight lines, as described in the
1918 De Stijl Manifesto. For their first point, the authors state:
There is an old and a new consciousness of time. The old is connected with the
individual. The new is connected with the universal. The struggle of the individual
against the universal is revealing itself in the world-war as well as in the art of the
present day.

PHOTO SOURCE:
UDO SCHLIEMANN

The belief in the "universal" also reduced the use of colour to the primary colours red, yellow
and blue, as well as black, white and grey. This urge for standardization, finding norms and
rules for all kinds of things, was typical for the time, leading to Ostwald's colour system and
the proposal of Ido, as a world language. Lower case typography, instead of upper and lower
case exemplified by Herbert Beyer's 1925 Universal alphabet is an example of simplified a
font design. Although understandable from that normative perspective, it was a formalized and
dogmatic typographic system that would not stand the test of time. However, white architecture,
devoid of any colour, has persisted until today, and for some architects, like Richard Meier, it
became a signature style.
While the idea of white simplicity, clarity and rectangular geometry in architecture started
after the First World War, the absence of colour can be traced back to the Reformation, starting
around 1500, when ostentation of any kind was discouraged. Before that time, going back to
the buildings of antiquity, colour was a common feature of architecture.
One important factor in the use of colour in buildings is that, historically, colour was expensive,
hard to get and not necessarily long-lasting. The ease (and detachment) of buying colours at a
hardware store today is a recent phenomenon. Originally, colours had to be sourced from animals, plants or precious stones. Lapis lazuli is a blue stone that was only found in Afghanistan.
Indigo, as the name suggests, came from India. The Blackwood or Bloodwood tree, which
yielded a deep blue dye, grew only in Campeche, Mexico. During the Renaissance, port cities
such as Venice had better access to imported dyes from the orient than inland cities such
as Florence. As a result, Florentine artists established a tradition of drawing, while artists in
Venice specialized in colourful paintings.
In ancient Greece and Rome - and even more so during the time of the Pharaohs, the
Persians and Middle Eastern civilizations - palaces and gardens were beautifully decorated
with large-scale murals and mosaics, as many relicts prove today. Scientific research has also

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The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019

Colour
Index to Advertisers
Locations
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - Intro
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - cover1
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - cover2
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 3
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 4
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 5
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - Colour
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 7
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 8
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 9
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 10
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 11
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 12
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 13
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 14
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - Index to Advertisers
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 16
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 17
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - Locations
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - cover3
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - cover4
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