Thursday, April 30, 2015

Brutal Color: Influencing The Human Experience of Architecture Through Color




Bucolic Brutalism by David Evers
As architectural colorists, we are interested in the role color can play in creating humanized spaces within our constructed environments.  One example of architecture enhancing the relationship between color and the user is Brutalism.  Brutalist architecture is often perceived as austere and unemotional.  Its name comes from the french "b├ęton brut", or raw concrete.  Born as a response to post World War II ideals of strength, functionality, and social homogeneity, Brutalism is characterized by an aesthetic of form following function with a purist sense of materiality.   Designs typically use formidable monolithic masses of concrete, glass and steel that dwarf the human scale.  The  materials  provide a neutral backdrop which can provide a canvas for color to shape human response.

Color Fuses by Milton Glaser
Indianapolis, Indiana 


Milton Glaser's mural Color Fuses wraps the ground floor of the Minton Capehart Federal Building and is a spectacular example of how color can tranform a cold and bare space into one that is both stimulating and inviting.  Originally completed in 1975 and restored in 2002, the piece celebrates the interplay of color and light. 




Glaser programmed the exterior perimeter lighting to illuminate his mural with a slow rise and fall sequence. This rhythm alludes to the gradual rising and setting of the sun and the timeless wonder associated with the qualities of light as it shifts and reveals itself on the horizon.  The otherwise barren space glows with warm color, creating a dynamic pedestrian experience.  


Albert Einstein High School by NJB Architects and Francois Privat Architects
 Languedoc-Roussillon, France


Albert Einstein High School is an example of color as a tool for creating human scaled dimensions within large scaled environments.  Built in the 1960s, the complex is made up of large linear buildings.  Concrete framed volumes with three to four story curtain walls organize the regimented site in a strict grid with indifference to the human condition.




 NJB Architects with Francois Privat Architects have redesigned this lifeless campus with an energetic color palette that breaks the regularity of the organization, creating a stimulating visual quality to the otherwise mundane environment.  The monolithic structures are softened by bright colored stripewhich both reference and break the defining regularity of the project.


Unite d'Habitation by Le Corbusier.
Marseille, France


Corbusier's Unite d'habitation is arguably one of the most widely recognized brutalist buildings.  Designed as a "machine for living", the 18 story concrete block was completed in 1952.  The massive concrete structure allows for high density occupation while a strict grid divides the building into a more human scaled module.  Color introduces a layer of individuality between the units, enforcing the human dimension within the project.  The palette includes sixteen different tones, which yield a large number of color combinations that individualizes the 336 apartments. Different from Le Corbusier’s purist buildings, where he used color mostly as a tool to articulate and modify space, the Unite d’habitation in Marseille marks a shift towards the independence of color from form, and the social dimension of color.




The brutalist structures that dominate their surroundings provide exemplary models for the role color plays in creating environments.  The architectural composition of these projects are sometimes perceived as severe and foreboding.  However, when paired with a rich color program, the buildings come to life, illustrating the relationship of color and its ability to inform human experience.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Colorful World of Tetrachromacy

A wonderful ballet of reds, blues, and greens choreograph the rich colors we experience in both our natural and built environments.  This art of color recognition is founded in neuroscience.  The average human eye contains three cone cells embedded within the retina.  These cones register light at different wavelengths, which transmit data to the brain.  Here they combine, resulting in the phenomenon we know as color.  The human eye can register millions of colors, which makes the world a delightful playground for artists and colorists like us.  But what if we are limited by our three cones and the world is actually more colorful than we know?

Image of a gailardia flower in simulated tetrachromatic vision.  Image courtesy of Dr. Klaus Schmitt.

A rare condition known as tetrachromacy has proven that the millions of colors the average human eye can see is just the tip of the rainbow.  A mutation found in almost 12% of women, tetrachromacy is the condition of possessing an additional cone in the retina, which is more sensitive to the color scale between red and green.  This allows them to see up to 100 times as many colors as a the rest of us who only possess three cones.  Recent research has shown that these women tend to excel in the fields of design and visual arts.

Image of a rudbeckia flower, first in visible light, second with simulated tetrachromatic vision.  Photo Credit: Dr. Klaus Schmitt

Color is extremely personal.  There is no way to know if the shade of green one person sees is exactly the same as what another sees. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120209-do-we-all-see-the-same-colours.  For this reason, tetrachromats have difficulty explaining how the colors they see differ from the color trichromats (people with three-cones) see.  However, artist Concetta Antico, who genetically tests positive and is a research subject for tetrachromacy, is making strides in this area.  Her vibrant paintings depict prismatic scenes where light and color form dynamic illustrations of everyday objects.


Painting of a Eucalyptus by Concetta Antico with image of the original scene.

Even with three cones, the eye sometimes needs to be trained to see the full spectrum of colors.  The same applies to women with tetrachromacy.  Not all cases of the mutation allow the subject to experience this "super human vision".  However, some scientists believe that the women who possess the ability to function tetrachromatically may be ahead of human evolution.  One day, maybe all of us will be able to live in a colorful tetrachrome world.


Monday, December 29, 2014

The Business of Brand Color

When it comes to branding and business, color has the ability to communicate instantaneously without words.  It can trigger emotions, memories, desire and recognition.  A thoughtfully conceived  color campaign makes any brand recognizable and memorable to its target audience.


Image courtesy of Tiffany's' 2011 Christmas ad campaign

Tiffany & Co.

Tiffany Blue is arguably one of the most recognized colors in brand advertising.  The color was selected  in 1845 by the company's founder, Charles Lewis Tiffany, for the cover of the first mail order  couture jewelery catalogue published in the United States.  Trademarked by Tiffany & Co., Tiffany Blue is a private custom color.  You can find it in the Pantone system as PMS number 1837, which is the year the company was founded.  The robins egg blue was chosen because of its popularity with Victorian brides, and for the turquoise colored gemstones that were in style in the mid-19th century.


Photographed by Peter Lippmann as a part of the 2011 Fall/ Winter ad campaign, this scene was inspired by Francois Clouet's portrait of Elizabeth of Austria, Queen of France

Christian Louboutin

Christian Louboutin's provocative red shoe soles distinguish his product from other designers, effectively transforming every pair of seductive heels into a walking advertisement.  Louboutin  trademarked his "signature" red in 1993.  The color is registerd as Pantone 18-1663 TPX and was recently at the center of legal proceedings between Louboutin and competitor Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) for rights to the red sole.  YSL has since dropped its lawsuit and Louboutin has expanded the color into a line of nail polish appropriately named Rouge.


Prada store in Nanning, China.

Prada

Prada has a history of privilege, which is conveyed in the trademarked Prada Green introduced in 1983.  The first Prada shop was opened in Milan in 1913 by Mario and Martino Prada and by 1919 the shop was honored as the Official Supplier to the Italian Royal Household, becoming an established brand amongst the European artistocracy.  In 1983 Prada opened a second location in Milan and introduced the pale green that would become known as Prada Green.  The new store merged its traditional history with modern styles, establishing Prada as the fashion powerhouse we know today.


Hermes 2009 Ad Campaign by Raquel Zimmerman

Hermes

Thierry Hermes founded Hermes in 1837 producing high quality harnesses and bridles for the carriages of the European nobility.  With roots in functionality, Hermes orange became the company's calling card in the mid 1950s during World War II.  Paper products were hard to come by and the orange color was all that was available for packaging their merchandize.  Many decades later, the iconic orange remains the company's calling card and  is recognized across the globe as a symbol of quality and sophistication.


Image courtesy of Digibuzz



 
The caveat is color can be highly subjective.  While there is evidence supporting the idea that certain colors incite specific emotional responses,( i.e. yellow makes people happy, blue makes people calm, red makes people excited), these responses are subject to other undercurrents that play a role in how color is perceived, such as personal experience and cultural associations.  Successful color campaigns balances color psychology with an understanding the brand's target audience.



Image courtesy of Digitec Interactive.


While colors come in and out of style, savvy color selection creates a brand image that is both identifiable and timeless.  Color is smart business.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Colorful Quilted Landscapes at Material Test Farms

As architectural colorists, we are often faced with the questions of how the materials and finishes we recommend to our clients will stand up to the test of time.  When specifying color for those materials, durability is extremely important.  We rely on companies to provide accurate information about the lifespan of their products.  This information is gathered at weathering test farms, which form colorful quilted landscapes in some of the worlds' most extreme climates.

Atlas Outdoor Testing Facility, Arizona

Vast arrays of test fences showcasing a variety materials, ranging from metal panels to textiles and automotive coatings, provide unprotected exposure to deadly elements like UV rays, moisture, and heat.  The process is simple, and yet imperfect because weather itself is unpredictable.  However, outdoor weather testing is still the most reliable way to observe product responses to the elements.


Atlas South Florida Test Facility


Atlas South Florida Testing Facility

The first weather testing of architectural materials and finishes was recorded in 1906 at the Government Agricultural Experiment Station in Fargo, ND.  Outdoor testing facilities later opened in South Florida in 1931 and in Arizona in 1948, where climates are particularly harsh.  Outdoor testing facilities have now spread across the world to North and South America, Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia.


Q-Lab Florida has the most southerly exposure of any outdoor weathering facility in the United States
Testing materials in different geographic settings allows us to make informed decisions about the materials and finishes we recommend, and allows the industry to improve products on the market.  At Colour Studio our clients rely on us to recommend quality products that will offer high performance  after installation.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Color Icon : Alexander Girard

 "Art is only art if it is synonymous with living" - Alexander Girard




Alexander Girard (1907-1993) designed vast volumes of textiles, wall paper, furniture, and interior architectural details that brought together color and function to enhance quality of life.  His confident use of vibrant colors and playful patterns defined a generation, and still remain relevant today.


Miller House and Garden. Interior designed by Alexander Girard in 1953. Girard's design included custom furniture, seasonally rotating textiles, chair cushions, and rugs.



An Italian-American born in New York, Girard spent his childhood in Florence.  He studied architecture in London and Rome before moving back to New York City in 1932. Though formally trained in  architecture, Girard is best known for his textiles, which incorporate rich colors and folk-art references.




Alexander Girard at Herman Miller


In 1937, Girard opened a second studio in Detroit.  His involvement in the Detroit Institute for Art "For Modern Living" exhibition introduced him to Charles and Ray Eames's, who were exhibiting their molded plywood chair.  With Charles Eames' influence, Girard became the founding director of the Herman Miller Textile Division in 1952.  He served as its director until 1973, producing more than 300 vibrantly hued fabric and wallpaper designs in that time.




Girard completed projects independent of Herman Miller.  In 1959, he was commission to design the interior for La Fonda del Sol restaurant in New York City's Time-Life Building.  Girard called the design concept for the restaurant a "significant group," where design momentum is achieved because each individual piece is enhanced by its relation to the group.


Braniff International aircrafts featuring Alexander Girard's color design.

Braniff Airlines Aircraft Interior



In 1963, Braniff Airlines selected Girard to redesign their entire visual persona.  His design included seven final schemes for the plane exteriors and a new logo in the shape of a dove.  Girard originally wanted each aircraft painted all one color with a tiny "BI", however the company's advertising department wanted a bigger logo and bigger type, so the design was modified.  In the end, Girard initiated over 1700 design changes to plane interiors, logos, stationery, condiment packages, dishes, blankets and playing cards, among among numerous other aspects.   


Ottomans by Girard for Braniff Airlines.  Featured in the "Alexander Girard : An Uncommon Vision" Exhibit in New York May of 2014.  Photo courtesy of Herman Miller.

"Alexander Girard : An Uncommon Vision" showcases textiles, furniture and other objects that Girard designed as head of Herman Miller's textile division and for other private clients.  Photo courtesy of Herman Miller. 

As Architectural colorists, we share Girard's vision of a world that uses color to articulate form and energize function.  His approach to design was whimsical, and yet practical.  He produced spaces that people wanted to be in, using bright colors and folk art reference to create comfortable and welcoming environments.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Art of Seeing : Josef Albers and Relative Color

At Colour Studio, our job as architectural colorists is to please the eye, but visual perception of any one color is one of the hardest variables to control.  Josef Albers, German-born American artist and professor, taught that all color is relative.  His work explores the variances in color relationships and how subtle shifts in those relationships can have drastic results.


Josef Albers "Homage to the Square"


Albers stated that "... In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is — as it physically is."  His teachings are based on the idea that the world is controlled by vision, and that our eyes become accustomed to the world around us and begin to take certain things for granted.  He believed our brains process only what it expected and not the entire reality of what is actually in front of us.  Teaching first at the Bahaus, and later as head of Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Albers challenged his students to experiment with visual perception.


A color has many faces, and one color can be made to appear as two different colors. Here it is almost unbelievable that the left small and the right small squares are part of the same paper strip and therefore are the same color. And no normal human eye is able to see both squares -- alike. - Maria Popova


 Albers's art work illustrates his ability to see beauty in the mundane.  He worked with non-representational forms in an impersonal and detached style.  Rooted in his theory on the art of seeing, his work is devoid of his own sentiment in order to challenge the viewer to form their own emotional reactions based on their perception of color and the subject matter.


Josef Albers "Variants" 1947


His work is summed up in a treatise titled "Interaction of Color" published in 1963.  Written while teaching at Yale, the book investigates the properties of color.  An extension of his life long fascination with the deceptive nature of color, the treatise expands upon his teachings of visual perception as well as his own exploration of color relationship.


"Homage to the Square" 1964


For example, in his series of oil on paper paintings Homage to the Square, Albers experimented with the effects of perception, such as the apparent oscillation between the flat surface design and the illusion of movement and depth.


"Homage to the Square" 1972


Albers says of his work, "They all are of different palettes, and, therefore, so to speak, of different climates. Choice of the colors used, as well as their order, is aimed at an interaction - influencing and changing each other forth and back. Thus, character and feeling alter from painting to painting without any additional ‘hand writing’ or, so-called, texture."  Forever trying to teach the mechanics of vision and show even the uninformed viewer how to see, Homage to the Square embodied a shift in emphasis from perception willed by the artist to reception engineered by the viewer.


"SP-V" 1967


 Albers work demonstrates that subtle shifts in color relationships can alter our perception.  Color interactions can elicit emotional responses that influence the way we perceive our environments.  Everyone sees and perceives color differently, but with thoughtful color combinations one can create with the eye and brain in mind.



To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first edition of Josef Albers' Interaction of Color, Brenda Danilowitz, Chief Curator for the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation,  and Philip Tiongson have developed an iPad app that expands upon principles and experiments featured in the book.  Follow the link below and tell us what you think!

http://yupnet.org/interactionofcolor/

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Monticello : Historic Trends for a Modern World

This week at Colour Studio, we have been researching historic color palettes and thinking about what exactly makes a  palette "historic".   When we are asked to consider historic palettes, we are essentially looking at color trends from a past era.  While some colors may be more popular than others at a given period of time, the fact is, trends are fleeting.  What is trending this year will be inevitably be replaced by something new the next year.   So what is it about these historic colors that continues to inspire us today?


Thomas Jefferson's Dining Room at Monticello

West facade of the Palladian inspired plantation in Virginia

In historic preservation, recreating historic palettes means maintaining pieces of history, allowing us to experience monuments of our past as they were originally intended.  Paint analysis research being conducted at Thomas Jefferson's famous home Monticello in Virginia has allowed color experts to recreate historic colors by providing scientific information about the chemicals and pigments used to make them.  Until the mid-1880s, paint colors were custom mixed by hand, and so your colors were only as good as the ingredients available to mix them.


Dining Room interior with table setting designed by Charlotte Moss

The Dome Room

Thomas Jefferson himself rejected the idea of trends, turning away from the somber Georgian blues, grays, and greens popular in America at the time in favor of more vibrant hues being developed in France.  The dining room at his Monticello home, for instance, was painted a brilliant chrome yellow in 1815.  The color was new at the time, mixed with lead chromate yellow pigments that had only just been discovered in France in 1810.


Entry Hall



























The original palette was designed while the plantation was under construction in the early part of the nineteenth century.  It was an exciting time for color.  Advancements in color pigments in Berlin were making new hues possible like Prussian Blue and  Verdigris Green.  Both colors have been identified in samples of the original palette used at Monticello.  This historic palette is more than just a collection of colors, but a collection of new ideas stemming from cross continental travels, scientific discoveries of pigments and the cultivation of knowledge.  Many of the rooms have now been restored to their original color thanks to a generous donation from Ralph Lauren.


Tea Room


Monticello in Fall

Historic color palettes are more than just specific pairings of colors used on old buildings.  Each palette  represents a moment in time allowing us to channel the feel of generations past. This is why they continue to color our built environments today, so many generations later.