Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Best of the Year: Eye-Popping Books on Color

For the holiday season, we’ve selected a few gorgeously illustrated new books in which rich color takes center stage.

In her new book on color, Abigail Ahern encourages readers to banish beige, boost color, and transform their home.

Abigail Ahern’s Colour takes readers on a journey into the deep with its emphasis on dramatic aquamarine hues.  Awash in blues and greens, the book is a celebration of the British interior designer’s signature palette, which she describes on her website as “an array of intoxicating, dark, inky bottom-of-the-lake hues, all tempered with the odd bright pop of color and ultra lux new neutrals.”

Photography by Graham Atkins-Hughes

Photography by Graham Atkins-Hughes

Ahern, who also owns two retail shops in London, is known for her fearless use of color and seductively stunning interiors.  Beautifully photographed by Graham Atkins-Hughes, Colour exemplifies Ahern's confident style as she encourages readers to be bold, take risks, and have fun with color rather than fear it.  She outlines many practical strategies for color, such as using it in unexpected places like inside kitchen cabinets, or building the illusion of space by blurring boundaries between walls and ceilings.

Organized by room and by specific color combinations, Colour illustrates gorgeous uses for black and white, bold and dark colors, and even neon. 

A young Jane Fonda graces the cover of Michel Pastoureau's new book.  Photograph by Horst P. Horst/ Conde Nast Collection

French historian Michel Pastoureau plumbs the depths of a single hue in Green: The History of a Color. A follow-up to the author’s previous two volumes, Black and Blue, the book examines the evolving place of green in art, clothes, literature, religion, science and everyday life.  As this thoroughly researched book so elegantly illustrates, over time green has been a color of contradictions -- a symbol of life and luck, but also one of decay, greed and poison. 

From The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz

From The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz

The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz is a compendium to Wes Anderson's critically acclaimed film released earlier this year.  This is a visual feast for the eyes with rich illustrations of set design, costuming, and art direction. The book includes interviews with lead actor Ralph Fiennes and key members of the production cast, making it a worthy read for any film buff or creative.

Photo of Architectural Color Design courtesy of Les Couleurs Swisse AG

Architectural Color Design brings together all of Le Corbusier’s 63 color palettes in one beautifully published volume.  The palettes, created in 1931 and 1959, are the basis of Le Corbusier’s comprehensive theory of colors known as the Architectural Polychromy.  The book is not currently sold in the United States but can be ordered through Les Couleurs Swisse AG.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Artist Creates Visual Diary of Color-Coded Emotions

Portuguese designer Luis Giestas recorded his emotions, at every hour, for 300 days, and laid out the result in a series of color-coded diaries.  The project started as an exercise in dealing with anxiety, and unfolded to explore and document the whole range of basic universal emotions as represented by distinct colors.

photo courtesy of the artist

The artist’s color-coded matrix, entitled “Soft Cover Emotions,” is largely based on psychologist Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.

photo courtesy of the artist

The result is a series of three visual diaries, each one adding a twist to the initial premise. The first volume displays the sheer variety of emotions one goes through in a single day.  The second version shows us that the emotions we feel and the ones we express are not always the same, while the third volume plays with expectations, reality and memories.

photo courtesy of the artist

The emotions range from serenity to ecstasy, or from pensiveness to grief. The unconscious hours of sleep are represented in black.

photo courtesy of the artist

The second volume introduces a twist to the premise: each page is divided in two; the bottom half showing the emotions that are felt and the top half displaying the emotions expressed.

photo courtesy of the artist

Whenever there is a discrepancy between what is felt and what is expressed, a split line is created in the middle of the page.

photo courtesy of the artist

The third volume explores the issues of expectations and memory.  The top third shows the emotions expected the following day; the middle section displays the emotions felt in the present moment; and the bottom shows the emotions recalled 24 hours later.  The emotions that cannot be recalled or predicted are displayed in white. 

This exhaustive and repetitive process of recording ended up inspiring other issues, such as the expression of our feelings, how we are constantly surprised about what we expect to feel even during our daily routine, and our capacity to have a clear image of our emotions and store them in our memory.

This color-based project resulted in some important insights, the artist points out.  “Before starting the project I thought I had a clear sense of how I feel, and now I know that the image I have of myself is a very unstable approximation of an ever-changing stream of emotions.  This is something we all know in a way, but to be able to see the graphical evidence of it as represented by color made the painstaking process of recording completely worth it."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Colorful Dynamics of Glass

As the San Francisco skyline welcomes new silhouettes to its configuration, Colour Studio has had the opportunity to be involved in color selections for various high rises going up in the area.  This has presented the interesting challenge of selecting glass color in conjunction with exterior colors, materials and finishes.

Over the past years, requirements to meet Title 24 regulations and earn points toward LEED accreditation,  glazing systems have become critical factors in building performance and ultimately to regional building approvals.  Even in cases of high performance glass, there is still a perceivable color cast that needs to be factored into the overall color program.  Selecting glass color is a multi-layered process, encompassing both function and aesthetic.  In this post, we look at the elements that impact the way glass color makes itself apparent in our constructed landscapes.

One World Trade Center : New York City, NY

Glass in the Sky

The surrounding sky is an important aspect when considering glass color.   Every geographic location has its own unique sky color.  It is important to select glass colors that work with the sky in the specific region.   If the glass color is not complementary to the surrounding sky, it will drastically affect how the glass color is perceived.

W Hotel : Barcelona, Spain

Glass in Urban Settings

In dense urban environments, characteristics such as reflectivity and transparency will affect the way glazing system is experienced.  Highly reflective glazing systems will create a mirror effect, magnifying the surrounding conditions that may clash or complement other building elements.  Considering neighboring buildings is always important when making material color selections, but especially so when selecting glass color.

Seagram's Building, London, England

Clear Glass

Even in the case of clear glass, there will still be at least a hint of color.  Hardware becomes more of a design component in these instances, and sophisticated structural hardware and fastening systems  have more of a visible impact.  Selecting complimentary fixtures in appropriate sizes can be equally as important as paying careful attention to the coloring of the glass itself.  Both will work together to create an overall aesthetic.

Apple flagship store, New York, NY

Colored Glass Accents

Colored glass can be playful yet functional way to enliven a building.  This strategy can have a dynamic impact on the project as it not only impacts the exterior skin, but will filter into interior spaces as the light changes throughout the day.

International Management Institute, Kolkata, India
Miami Airport, Miami, FL

As colorists, we can not rely solely on glass as a passive, decorative element in building composition.  We must make selections for glass surfaces that enhance performance and lessen the impact of the built environment on our planet.  Objective color takes into consideration all variables, both environmental and project driven.  They challenge is to find the balance.

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.