The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 8
There is also the fact that we tend to prefer what we find familiar, sometimes expressed as
the preference-for-prototypes theory.11 Many classical buildings of antiquity, those that have
served as models for centuries of new development, were originally brightly coloured. But over
time, weathering had its effect, so the developing renaissance civilizations were presented
with buildings that were largely the colours of the materials they were constructed from, any
colouring having faded or fallen off centuries before.
In addition, until 50 or so years ago, most architectural representation was black and white,
being either sketches or photographs. Coloured paintings were relatively rare (and expensive).
Even today, in the education of architects, colour is usually pushed into the background. Think of
all those models being built with pristine white foam board, and those black and white sketches.
In my own experience, I don't recall any of my instructors in architecture school spending much
time discussing colour.
The Victorians, rediscovering the medieval past, were not ashamed of using colour, both
inside and outside, and some architects, such as William Butterfield (1814-1900), used brick
and ceramic colours and patterns extensively and architecturally - perhaps even riotously.12
In other settings, iron structures were often picked out with colour to differentiate materials.
However, in early functionalist modernism, colour, like ornament, was seen to be superfluous,
and white walls were the ideal.13 As Eric Arthur (1898-1982) suggested, "Modern materials
and construction have an intrinsic beauty."14 Arthur supported the concept of modernism, but
again there was no experimental evidence for such a statement; it was the opinion generally
accepted by the architectural leading edge of the time.
Research undertaken since the 1960s has indicated that too many materials or colours can
decrease the esteem given to a design, one reason being that excessive complexity will decrease
the legibility of a building.15-17 A small study using interior spaces found that appropriateness
may be a major determinant of evaluative responses to interior colour, supporting the more
general hypothesis that such responses to colour are partially dependent upon the object with
which the color is associated.18
Differences between some styles (Modern versus Georgian or Art Nouveau) have been
found to have an impact on the selections of appropriate colour. In a study using colours and
two-dimensional shapes, subjects used "a complex rule in which the weight attributed to one
element depends on the value of the other element."19 The results, it was determined, did not
depend on whether the subject was an "expert" (artist or architect?). In other words, preference
for architectural colours is highly dependent upon what they are being used for, and where they
are being used - all of this underlining the level of cultural dependence.
Historically, in numerous Eurasian societies, bright colours were a marker of lower class.
People of taste did not display bright colours, which were often seen as "superficial, subjective, irrational, self-indulgent, sensual, disorderly, and deceptive."20 While we may not know
why this is the case, we recognize that different cultures relate to colour differently, in keeping
with differing historical, political, economic and religious conditions, as well as the practical
reasons of the availability and cost of different pigments.
Colour and colour combinations are highly subject to fashion, with shifts in fashion being
shorter than buildings' life expectancies, or even shorter than the periods between refurbishments, which may make it difficult to undertake research that could offer long-term guidance,
especially for long-lived assets. Recall the pastels (combined with splashes of bright colours)
that were favoured in the 1950s and 1960s, the psychedelic-inspired bright colours from the
hippie/LSD period, the earth-tones of the late 1970s, and the reappearance of pastels in the
1980s. It is difficult to perceive building colour fashions in the 21st century, perhaps because
we are in the time, and affected by the fashions themselves, but also because with societal
change, we are less tempted to follow fashion, and that diversity reigns.
Although we may hope for the appearance of some insightful empirical research on
building exteriors that will allow a more evidence-based approach, this may never happen.
William Braham of the University of Pennsylvania suggests, "At the outset, one must wonder
if color offers a wholly stable historical subject for examination,"21 implying that previous
generations, in particular the ancients, simply saw a more limited palette of colours, and that
modern discussions of colour have increasingly related to the individual and the subjective.
Perhaps we are to be left permanently striving for a full explanation of how colour works on
the minds of people.
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The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019
Index to Advertisers
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