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    Color by Default or Intention

    by Darlene A. Brady and Mark M. English

    Human experience of the world incorporates a full spectrum of color in light, shadow, and surface. A stroll through many architecture studios, however, reveals an abundance of black line drawings and achromatic models. Architecture in its embryonic stages seems often to exist in a world without color.

    If color plays an important role in perception, why would it be left out of the architectural design process? Considering color to be a peripheral issue may be traced, in part, to the omission of color theory as a requirement in most architecture curricula. Contemporary American architectural education tends to focus on the spatial aspects of architecture, the related issue of habitation, or on the constructive aspects, that is, how buildings are put together.

    Light is sometimes cited as a contributing issue that informs our perception of the qualities of a particular space. But color is generally ignored in the discussion or just added without critical dialogue or understanding. When color is an issue, it is often considered by default, as something to jazz up a drawing, rather than by intent, as an integral aspect of the design concept and process.

    There is also a tendency to think of color in terms of highly saturated, polychromatic palettes, such as the Victorian houses known as "painted ladies," to the exclusion of muted hues and materials. However, absolutely pure colors are relatively uncommon in architecture, especially when compared with signage or clothing.

    At the other end of the spectrum, achromatic palettes of blacks, grays, and whites still exhibit slight casts of color, either as an inherent quality or as tone adopted from the environment. Absolutely achromatic blacks, grays, and whites exist more in theory than in reality. Because these achromatics have, or adopt, casts of color, they are subject to the same color principles as the more readily identifiable hues.

     

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    ArchWeek Photo

    The theme of unity in Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple is expressed through the building as a single uninterrupted, monochromatic block.
    Photo: Darlene Brady and Mark English

    ArchWeek Photo

    Using analogous colors would have broken down the cohesive whole into smaller but related parts like strata in a rock formation.
    Photo: Darlene Brady and Mark English

     
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