I had just arrived for a Right Angle meeting, after a client presentation, and was placing my coat on the back of the chair, when Ian Ellingham suddenly asked me if I had worn the tie I was wearing to the presentation. He immediately took a picture of my tie and followed up with, “We’re doing our next issue on Colour. Tell me why you wore wear that tie.” It was a quick and surprising welcome and, caught off guard, I wasn’t sure how to respond at first.
I was not wearing what might be considered the architect’s uniform – a traditional black suit. Non-colour has been on-trend within the profession since the days of Eero Saarinen and Mies van der Rohe. White, grey and black have dominated not only the buildings we design, but also the fashion choices we make.
On this particular day I was wearing a deep blue suit and a bold tie with colours layered in horizontal bands, broken by vertical ribbing. Its geometric design has inspired others to refer to it as, “Alex’s architectural tie.” But I wasn’t wearing it with that in mind.
Colour has been a part of my architectural toolkit since my university days. For me, it was a means of imparting vitality to spaces. During my final thesis year at the University of Toronto, I was inspired by Christopher Alexander’s factor analysis and was using the Engineering Department’s computers to examine the relationship of the factors affecting a community. My test case was Toronto’s West End. The output revealed a pattern of scattered, modest incursions throughout the community. The most significant was a renovation of the West End YMCA that included supergraphics across the building façade. With a small budget and youth volunteers, supergraphics and colour had been used to brighten the dull green spaces, and signal to the community that the Y was modernizing and becoming more welcoming.
Over the years that followed, my firm has focused on a non-institutional approach to public buildings. Stark Temporale Architects’ first awards were for outdoor pools based on the theme of, “a day at the lake,” involving a range of new amenities and building forms. An integral part of the concept was place-making, which included symbols, colour, signage and graphics. Later as a sole practitioner, and then as principal of my own firm, the place-making approach became an integral part of the firm’s renovation of educational buildings.
For a period of time, I was involved in rejuvenating school institutional buildings, sometimes with paint alone. It seems inconceivable today, but at that time, institutional green was rampant – used everywhere, applied to all surfaces, reducing contrast and absorbing the natural or artificial light within the space. The impact of this light green shade was to render the spaces staid, which Google tells me is synonymous with, “sedate, respectable, quiet, serious, serious-minded, steady, conventional, traditional, unadventurous, unenterprising, set in one’s way.” Institutional green was all of these things and more. For spaces intended to educate, stimulate, inspire joy and be vibrant, light green did not appear to be an effective solution.