Monday, November 5, 2012

Chinese color symbology

When thinking about color for modern architecture we often turn to color theory and studies on the effects of color on psychology to support the function of the space. While these methods are effective and work well for the modern system it hasn't always been the way color was chosen for buildings. 

For thousands of years cultural color symbolism had supremacy over the aesthetics or function of color. A great example of symbolism as the dominate paradigm is 14th and 15th century Chinese architecture. Architects of the time were very concerned with color. Colors acted as cultural sign posts.

Imperial Yellow via Wikipedia

Examples of   using color  for delineation  are  the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City. The two spaces were identified for different uses by their roof color. Imperial color at the time was a strong distinct yellow and  the Forbidden City was all given distinctive  yellow tile roofs,  the architectural element  reserved for buildings built for the Emperor of China. The roof and figurative ornamentation distinguished the buildings as having the highest status. The symbolic color  can be seen from great distances and thus indicated the seat of power without written signs or Google maps.
High Status Yellow Roof  via Wikipedia
Temple of Heaven via Wikipedia
The Temple of Heaven, or more literally translated the Alter of Heaven, in contrast to Imperial Yellow,  was built using rich sky blue tiles. Blue was the symbolic color of the gods.  In a comparatively advanced and literate society color was  used to delineate city structures. The buildings were essentially color coded. A beautiful large format panorama of the Temple of Heaven can be seen here.

Blue Temple of Heaven roof via Mondo

- Emily Eifler, Writer, Colour Studio
- Jill Pilaroscia, Principal, Colour Studio


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