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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Designing with Colors (Part 1)

Architecture in Colors

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Fig.1- Water Park Playground: an Ideal Place where Colors are used to the fullest. Photo Source:

The colors used in the architectural building design and construction do not necessarily mean only bright colors, but all the pale and clear hues, in addition to the natural colors of the materials and coatings.

So, normally any construction isn't just a monochromic structure, but the color is a related and natural part of the building. Colors are economical-in-space design tools, as they don’t need a lot of size extension within the building area.
They are either part of the nature of the materials or the thickness of the coating layer which does not exceed a few millimeters. They are easy to implement because there are a lot of paint-coatings that can be implemented by ordinary people, and they are low in price when compared to other different expensive materials and methods.

The colors which are incorporated by nature into the materials (such as stone, marble, glass, synthetic plastics) cannot be erased.
On the contrary, those that are added to the material surface as a coloring layer (coating) over it are subject to change over time.
Read more: Read the article Use of Colors in Architecture; for more information about Designing with Colors and live examples on this topic.

Light and Color in Architecture and Nature | The Light and Color Factor

Colors are not found alone in nature but are always under the influence and interaction of other natural elements surrounding them, such as light, dust, and other factors.

It also varies in nature; the sky changes its color from white in the morning to blue in the afternoon, then to red at sunset and at the beginning of the night to purple and then to black at night.

The colors of plants and animals today are precisely what these creatures need for their existence and the continuation of their species, and they send chromatic messages intended to help them to hide, camouflage, or warn.

A very known example of what it precedes is the chameleon.
Colors are also an important part of the visual arts, but designing with colors is somehow a complicated matter because colors interact with light, sight, shapes, shadows and human senses; it is an existing science by itself and have its own rules that many of designers hesitate or worry to handle because their impact varies over individuals from one to another.
It depends on the mentality and the psyche language of the people or the society behind to understand it and react to it;

George Pompidou Cultural Center and Museum in Paris by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, and Gianfranco Franchini is a typical model of integrating colors in Architectural Design. (Photo Credit:

Therefore the use of colors in the buildings in general needs specific scientific knowledge and extensive practical experience, and it must be taken into account from the beginning if we want the design to succeed.

This thing drives designers to hire some specialists in color design and methods of use, which raises the cost of design significantly, which makes its use monopolized by large and big projects.
Fig.2- Georges Pompidou Cultural Center in Paris. Photo Credit:

Usage of Colors in Architecture Designs

In the modern era, there are architects who excelled in the use of colors such as the Mexican Luis Burgan (1902 - 1988) and Ricardo Liguria (1931 – 2011), the American Frank Gehry (1929), the French Jean Nouvel (1945) and the Dutchman Ben Van Barkell (1957) and many others...

In this post, we will discuss the role of colors in architectural design and their use in an appropriate artistic and scientific manner in terms of:
  • First: The Color Functionality
  • Second: A brief history of its usage in the construction industry
  • Third: A review of contemporary projects as examples of color design.

- First: The Color Functionality or the Color Function

Colors are a phenomenon in the first place and are a medium for vision and communication.

Colors as a phenomenon, constitute the visual feeling of a person with the environment around him; Where, if it can be explained in a simple way, colors are transformed by the eye's retina into energy that creates a chemical light reaction that the person feels and accordingly affects his emotion.

As a mediator, color is a tool for guiding and expressing meanings and sensations.

Objects may appear monochromic (white, gray, and black) or chromatic, as the colorless shapes define the formal frame and size and focus on the elements of length, width, depth, and proportions.

As for the colors, they distract the eyes from focusing on the shape and size of objects, and therefore the colors become merely decorative items within forms with flat shapes (which have no volume).

Increasing or decreasing the amount of color without knowing, can badly affect the design which leads to misleading the receiver or the normal user.
Therefore the use of colors in the design must have specific communication goals.

And if the colors in Mother Nature follow the theory of evolution, any change in the balance of these colors prejudices the presence of creatures or forces them to transform.

For example, the color orientation feature of bees by which the color spectrum of the flowers depends on to transfer between them, transferring their pollen from one flower to another, without this characteristic 60% of plants’ species become extinct.

How to use Colors in Architecture?

If the colors in nature serve the guiding goals necessary for the continuity of life evolution, then for the built environment they serve the guiding goals that flow from the development of culture and its diversity according to each society.

Colors in cities and buildings, and inside them, as well as the colors of products and artwork, perform functions that contribute to the life of their communities.

Initially, the color sources were local, which led to the creation of a local color code for each community.

This regulation allows directing, expressing meanings, and identifying the local identity.

With the development of industry, means of transportation, and modern communication, the production of building materials developed, including painting and coatings in large quantities, unification, replication, and ease of distribution.

A condition that weakened the local identities, and therefore it was necessary to find new ways to preserve them, hence the importance of colors today as they are a powerful design tool capable of expressing and influencing Humanity.

- Second: A brief history of its usage in the construction industry

With the development of archeology in the second half of the eighteenth century, studies and researches helped to understand the relationship between colors and construction.

Marseille Tower_Jean Nouvel
Fig.3- The Marseille Tower featuring the colors of the French
Flag. Photo Credit:
It proved that the use of colors in temples and historical Greek sculptural works were common, as those edifices that still exist were believed to be constructed with abstract stone surfaces color and to be colored later.

A dispute occurred in the nineteenth century between historians about the role of colors in the design of edifices and whether the use of colors in architecture must be by the natural colors of materials or colors may be added to the surface of the material, and is due to the German architect Gottfried Sanber, in his writing between 1834 and 1869.

The interpretation of the use of colors inside the walls of Greek temples is inspired by the mounds of huts and primitive tents made of colored textiles (such as carpets) and that both represent the external cladding of the building that is decorated with colors.

This theory is still being used architecturally today even though more than a century has passed since then. (See image above for the tower project in Marseille designed by Jean Nouvel).

- Third: Example of buildings with remarkable colors

As a matter of fact, we will review five related projects in which colors were used as a basis for achieving the project requirements, namely:

1- La Defense Offices building project in Elmira, Netherlands, designed by UNStudio.
Fig.4- LA DEFENSE Building by UNStudio. Photo Credit:

The design mixes the elements of natural light and colors through the building's glass facades, which are covered with a mixture of colored chips.
The color of the destinations changes according to the natural light falling on them throughout the daylight hours.

These variable-looking facades overlook a zigzag inner courtyard connecting the areas between the building and aiming to attract pedestrians to pass through and bring life to its center.

The colors here are one of the advantages of the building to attract companies for its rental office space preference. (The aesthetic side serves the commercial side).

2- French International School Project in Hong Kong, China, designed by Henning Larsen Office.
The nature of the buildings that serve young people pushes forward for the use of colors as an effect of attraction for these age groups.
Fig.5- French School in Hong-Kong

Normally they are affected by the colors in a direct and quick way.

In addition, the project uses colors as a guide and definition that creates an atmosphere of reliability and safety for young people and reduces the impact of the concrete glut of Hong Kong city buildings surrounding the area of the project. It is also used by the design to integrate the project into its natural surroundings using colors that harmonize the sky with green areas and soil.

3- Entertainment project in Seoul, Korea by designer office MVRDV.
Fig.6- Entertainment Project in Seoul. Photo

Recreational and entertainment projects always need very attractive architectural designs, which are provided by the concept that combines distinguished decorations and colors that give the external appearance very rich impressions, where the gold paint was used.

Golden color always gives a higher value to things than their real value because the buildings are not gold in reality.

Here the designer deals with golden color as the clothing that people wear to show off.
It is to give an impression of richness and to define the location of the buildings due to its proximity to the city's airport.

4- Designed by Toyo Ito, an office tower for pearl trading, Tokyo, Japan.
Fig.7- Office Tower by Toyo Ito. Photo Credit:

Here the designer uses the pearl white color processing story to express the building's concept which is the pearl trade with the color-changing according to daylight hours to pink just as pearl color is.

5- A project to Breed and Manufacturing Fish in northern Norway, designed by the Snohetta Office.
Fig.8- The Project designed by Snohetta Office. Photo Credit:

The design uses colors to enter the element of cheerfulness in this dark environment, surrounded by the constant frenzy of the sea, mountains with dark nature rocks, and a cloudy sky overcast. The project uses painted aluminum panels with various colors that distinguish the buildings' functions from each other in its external appearance to find a certain contrast.

In addition to the fact that these materials are highly resistant to the effects of cold and marine environments.


References in this article:

-, the Arabic Edition of the Architecture Magazine
- Other resources.

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