Image: Hotel Marques Riscal Rioja. Acrylic-on-canvas painting by Angelo de Castro, architect & illustrator, principal of Angelo de Castro Ltda, Lisbon, Portugal.
One of our essayists confessed that colour in architecture was one of the toughest topics he had ever tackled – a fact that took him by surprise, since colour and architecture are both familiar and accessible topics. But there the similarities, apparently, end.
One problem is that architecture and colour live in separate worlds – one is real and tangible, the other perceptual. You can touch architecture and move around in it, but colour is abstract – a trick that relies on the ability of real materials to reflect and refract light. Le Corbusier claimed that architecture consists of “the play of masses brought together in light.” But if you turn out the lights, architecture still exists. Colour, on the other hand, doesn’t.
Another problem is that architecture and colour have had a troubled relationship over the millennia. Ancient and classical civilizations used colour on their buildings with abandon, imagining that as the buildings aged, and the colour wore off, future generations would replace it. They didn’t. Centuries later, when these magnificent temples, monuments and sculptures were “rediscovered,” they were admired for their complete lack of colour. And this became the standard for classical beauty in Western cultures: permanent, pristine and colourless.
Over the years, colourful architecture has flourished from time to time, but at the beginning of the 20th century, it was virtually outlawed by austere new arts movements. Hoping to resurrect the glory of classical architecture, without the distractions of decoration, architecture was to be colourless once again.
In recent years, new technologies have made it possible to use colour in buildings in many exciting ways, but old beliefs are hard to dislodge. So how DO you write about the relationship between colour and architecture, if they can’t even agree to get along? Our feature includes four essays that look at the subject from different angles. “Colour Notes” considers the use of colour in modern culture, with architecture as a notable exception. “Colour Blind” recounts architecture’s “colourful” and not-so-colourful history. “The Tie” looks at the importance of clothing choices. “Why not Colour” examines the amazing history of colour research and the possible reasons for the continuing reticence to use colour in architecture.
Will colour and architecture finally reach an amicable settlement? We look forward to hearing and reading your comments