‘What could be the color of your favorite public space? ‘This simple question could be a very confusing question for the interviewees since public spaces have so much complexity and ambiguity in their visual information that it would make it difficult to decide what could be the prevailing color. Colour combinations play an important role in visual imagery and perceptual experiences in urban environments. Harmonious and pleasant color combinations elevate the feeling of joy and appreciation of visual experiences.
While walking down a street or moving around a square one might not look at every detail of the surroundings rather they would savor the feeling of the overall atmosphere. This feeling whether good or bad is often a result of the color combinations displayed altogether. Numerous studies have been taken up to understand the effects of color on the psychological stances of an urban dweller. Different patterns and color combinations in the urban environment trigger different kinds of emotional responses. Feelings of disorientation, stress, or low mood would be the result of using obscure visual patterns and disharmonious color schemes, whereas harmonious and contextually tailored color combinations would stimulate positive emotions and eliminate the visual disorder.
Colors give a sensory stimulus that contributes to psychological over or under-stimulations. An over-stimulated environment would have colors that are saturated, contrasting, and illuminated while an under-stimulated environment would consist of monochromatic color combinations with very few contrasts. Over the years the use of innovative building materials and advanced lighting technologies has led to an alteration in the complexity of color patterns and visual experiences available to city dwellers for example thermo-chromatically color reacting facades animated by sensors and light projection systems or plasma screens. In architecture, color is expressed in materials and illumination rather than just paint which creates a new dialectic between form, space, structure, and light.
The psychological experiences in actual urban scales cannot be adequately reflected through architectural palettes and city color plans as the environmental conditions are dynamic and have no definitive pattern to them. One reason why this happens is that while designing or planning in architecture and urban design the colors put in the design are seen under a controlled lighting environment and the whole documentation is done in 2d color swatches.
Beyond aesthetics, color can also help in shaping spaces through light. The design methodology of how color can be used is defined in three phases – color dynamics in the conceptual phase, color tectonics in the form-making phase, and color imagery in the design development phase.
Here are 5 projects by architects that have tried to appropriate the use of color in urban and architectural scales –
1. Using color through strategic placements of different materials – Sagrada Familia by Antonio Gaudi
Best known as one of the leaders of Catalan Modernism and Art Nouveau, Gaudi’s fantastical work is characterized by traditional decorative arts like ceramic, stained glass, wrought iron forging in the forms. The architect’s remarkable use of color is evident in the polychromatic tiles, brick, and stonework used in Sagrada Familia and other countless project masterpieces.
2. Using color to elevate the form – St. Coletta School by Michael Graves
The American architect has tried to break away from purist traditions created by modernists and tried a playful color tone in his bold forms. The bright colors and simple form make it very fitting for the user group that the building serves. Multiple colors are used as a wayfinding device for the interiors of the school.
3. Colour used to contrast and complement the context – La Muralla Roja by Ricardo Bofill
Ricardo Bofill has tried to use striking colors in the exteriors as well as the interiors to complement and contrast with nature at the same time. Shades of red used in the exterior contrast with the surrounding while the interiors consisting of patios and stairs have shades of blue to blend with the sky. The play of light at different times of the day offers unforgettable views to the visitor.
4. Use of colour to create dynamic surrounding – Superkilen by BIG Architects
The half a mile-long urban space in the socially challenged neighborhoods of Denmark has an overarching idea that is conceived as a giant exhibition of urban best practices. The mile-long space is divided into three zones and colors namely green, black and red. The different surfaces and colors integrate to form new dynamic surroundings for everyday objects.
5. Using color to define depths – Web Chapel Park Pavilion by Studio Joseph
The pavilion is sandwiched between a soccer field and a playground. With its bold form and function, the whimsical surprise of color in its canopy accentuates the exaggerated depth of the ceiling.