critical colour

We’ve only got one colourful building in central Cambridge. ‘Where are the rest?’ by Yates Norton

If you want to change the character of your room, usually changing the colour will do. If, on the other hand, a blighted city, ravaged by ruthless urban campaigns needs transforming, it’s usually a bulldozer rather than the brush that does the work.

 For the city’s mayor, Edi Rama, colour was the key in transforming the city.

 Colour was associated with ornament – that thing so brutally critiqued by Adolf Loos in Ornament and Crime – and banished as bourgeois. Colour was nebulous rather than firm, rhetorical play rather than substance. Its merely optical re-renderings of space denounced as spectacle, pandering and reflecting an obsession with packaging and surface….

…..a suspicion of optical play: how can something so insubstantial as colour so transform our interaction in space?

…mere illusionistic play. Believing in the transformative capacity of colour in space is like believing that a blue steak really does change its flavour. But the fact is that we do see. Colour is a fact of presence, not merely an unnecessary veil to some essential body behind. 

The Lockean distinction between secondary and primary qualities is an entrenched dichotomy that has facilitated a measure of suspicion of the secondary as handmaiden to the first……

……Only recently has Le Corbusier be appraised as a colourist. Previously it might have been seen as a violation of his architectonic integrity. If colour were introduced, we’d be in the world of phenomenological play rather than firm, rational structure……

….Colour is subtler, perhaps not in tone, but certainly in the transformation of space. By relieving structures of pure tectonic integrity – key to Modernist tenets of ‘truth’ and ‘honesty’ – colour is able to change the dynamic of architecture’s intervention in our spaces. This is not to ask for weak architecture; but as an agent of transformation….

We can no longer sustain complete urban renewal on the model of Modernist tabula rasa: its ecological and sociological implications are too great and negative. Change can be effected by means which circumvent capital driven industrial forces that impose their physical and metaphorical structures on existing communities and spaces. If colour can transform architecture, can transform our space, simply through paint and light, the opportunities for renewal are ecological, and most importantly, available to all. Colour was picked up in postmodernist architecture, but an imaginative and subtle use of it has remained far from central to architectural and urban practice. The standard lexicon of urban transformation – pick axes, mallets and bulldozer – still dominate today. Let it now be paint and light.