Wednesday 6 April 2022


Saturated Space is the Colour Research Cluster at the Architectural Association School of Architecture.
This website is a working resource for the group and its collaborators, and will develop in parallel to the seminars, exhibitions, and physical test-case studies that will take place and be produced between the school and the Cluster's partner organisations.

Below is the site's blog
where we will be writing articles, inviting guest posts, and uploading extracts from relevant texts... a technicoloured compost heap of knowledge.

Above are links to the site's various pages
where you can find out who and what we are, information about the events we are organising as they come up, our bibliographical archive of books to read on the subject, links to friends and partners, and to our online publications.

The Queer Architect, A Tinted Affair

Delving into what it means to be a queer architect who expresses their identity through the aesthetics of the materials and spaces they produce, Johanna Hedenskog places colour firmly at he heart of queer spatial practice

Read in Calameo below, or download HERE for the pdf.

Sunday 5 September 2021

The Zealous Suppression of Colour

^Interior of All Saints Margaret Street from the nave, looking East towards the altar. [Electric Egg/]

In “The Zealous Suppression of Colour”, Sam Wigginton considers the palette of religious reform, and the repeated rejection of a previously embraced polychromy in four English churches from the 12th to the 20th Centuries.

Read in Calameo below, or download HERE for the pdf.

Monday 21 June 2021

A Call for a Proliferation of Polychromy

^Courtney Richeson, Parafictional Polychromy, 2020, Digital Collage

This essay -exclusively for Saturated Space- by Courtney Richeson asks the question of how a proliferation of polychromatic imagery of classical architecture, and subsequent styles that seek to replicate it, can begin the process of untethering and confronting architecture’s perpetuation of a false origin story derived from Greco-Roman tectonics, a similar narrative that has been adopted by the alt-right to promote white-supremacy. 

Read in Calameo below, or download HERE for the pdf.

Tuesday 4 May 2021

Colour As A Tool For Disrupting Imposed Identities & Traditions

^Niagara Galleries (2000-02) by Edmond and Corrigan, photo by John Gollings

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Senesios Frangos tells the story of how colour from the late 1970’s was used as a tool for disrupting imposed identities and traditions in the city of Melbourne / Naarm by a group of emerging practitioners who dared to challenge the cultural cringe and who began to disrupt accepted norms through their work in academia and throughout the city.

Read in Calameo below, or download HERE for the pdf.

Monday 5 April 2021

Soviet Green


Exclusively for Saturated Space, Anastasiia Gerasimova tells the story of how green became the colour of Soviet life

Read in Calameo below, or download HERE for the pdf.

Thursday 11 February 2021

The Colour of Green

Ever heard that white is more sustainable? Strolling through varied manifestations of visual culture, exclusively for Saturated Space, graphic designer Benedetta Crippa breaks down common myths around the complex relation between colour and sustainability, and their hidden dynamics of power.

Read in Calameo below, or download HERE for the pdf.

"I often propose to graphic design students this real scenario. You are presenting the layout of a business card to a client, in two versions: one with red background and white text, the other with white background and red text. The client says they really prefer the one with the red background, but they add you should print the other one, because the white background saves ink and it is more sustainable.
What do you do?
I could have played along: one designer going for a white background is no big deal, after all. What happens though when not one, but an entire generation of designers drops colour in favour of white? I imagined a world where white is established as the most ethical choice—it was not exciting, but not entirely unfamiliar either."

Friday 1 January 2021

Functional Colour

^Lever House <source>

A paper by Michael Abrahamson exclusively for Saturated Space.

the notion of a “functional” colour – colour that does something for or with or to you – was common in the 1950s, and not only in advertising. A revolution was underway in the way products and environments were colourised, one in which architects and interior designers actively participated. Coined by colourist Faber Birren in the 1930s, "functional colour" was a banner that symbolised an empirical system of colour selection. This paper tests Birren's intentions against the application of colour at Lever House in New York, one of his most favoured architectural examples. The New York headquarters of Anglo-Dutch fats and oils conglomerate Unilever and its subsidiary Lever Brothers, much attention was lavished on the colourisation of both its outside (by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) and its inside (by Raymond Loewy Associates). And yet, most historical study of Lever House to date hasn't penetrated its sleek, blue-green skin to reveal the colour systems at work within. Just what function did these colours have? 

Wednesday 31 July 2019

The Colour of Big

Exclusive to Saturated SpaceBold, bright, beautiful? Eddie Blake finds love on the orbital with big box self-storage. Cheaper than an analyst, less questioning than a rabbi, and easier work than an allotment, self-storage units are where people can find and lose themselves.

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Not Cool: Fleeting Moments and Telling Afterlives with Gold Mirror Architectural Glass

^Campbell Centre I and II. Dallas, Texas, Photo: 

Exclusive to Saturated Space, an in-depth investigation by Daniel Paul into the often surprising and rich origins, development, and cultural significance of gold mirror glass in architecture, from the United States, to its manifestations around the world in recent decades.

Monday 14 January 2019

The Values of Colour

^The Greengrocers' Order, 2016 by Ordinary Architecture. Photo Dunja Opalko

Exclusively for Saturated Space Owen Hopkins considers the role colour – or rather its absence – has played in the construction of the canon of western culture. He argues that to exclude colour is to ignore the contingent, the specific, the fashionable, the temporal in favour of a false universalism and values that serve to shut out what doesn’t conform.


One of the things they don’t tell you when you have a baby is how much stuff they need. Apparently there’s an inverse proportional relationship between the size of the person and the amount of stuff. It’s not just the obvious things like the crib, the changing mat, the buggy, but also the more unexpected, like the special bath, the bouncer, the sterilisation kit. There’s a definite aesthetic to this stuff – or rather two. 

^Photo by Jolenepienaar

On the one hand, there’s the neutral tones – generally greys, creams and dark blues – of the kit used by the parents, like baby carriers, changing bags and the like. On the other are the things that are for the baby – from their clothes to the something called a ‘jumperoo’ – which, in stark contrast, are a riot of bold, bright colours, striking and highly defined shapes, and of cartoon creatures of improbably garish colour. My favourite is a purple parrot. There are few gradients, just blocks of single colour, which in our otherwise typically restrained living room, make very clear that our household has been transformed.
I hadn’t realised that this aesthetic is far from arbitrary, but because at birth babies have only 5% of an adult’s visual acuity. In addition, stereoscopic vision – which is the process by which we are able to see in three dimensions – only gets going once babies are a few months old. And it’s not long after that babies’ vision is comparable to an adult’s. So, this world of bright colours, bold shapes and almost Memphis-like patterns is only temporary. But it got me thinking about why we leave this world of colour behind, and why as children get older they transition to a rather more restrained ‘grown-up’ aesthetic, so that by the time we reach adulthood the colours we decorate our homes, of the clothes we dress in and of objects we surround ourselves with conform to a relatively narrow spectrum of mostly ‘neutral’ shades. If anything, better vision should lead to more aesthetic complexity: more colour, not less.
Cultural Conditioning
What this makes clear is how much the ways we as a society relate to colour in design and architecture are a combination of what’s innate or hard-wired into us, and the meanings, ideals and values we culturally ascribe to colour, which vary across different contexts and different fields of design and cultural expression and production. The latter qualifier is critical. I find it endlessly fascinating that as we spend more and more time looking at a screen, the frame for it – that is, the smartphone, tablet, laptop, TV, etc. – becomes ever more neutral. The expected trajectory here would be for the screen-as-object to diminish as the screen-as-conduit grows – and to some degree this is the case as the screen to surface ratio increases. But the object remains vitally important, just ever more minimal in its design. Apple’s in retrospect brief early-2000s flirtation with colour and even pattern is now more or less an aberration, the exception that proves the rule.

^'Flower power' iMac, 2001. Photo Apple

We might see an equivalence here with architecture – and we obviously don’t need to limit ourselves Foster and Partners’ built equivalents of the iPhone – and the idea of a building as a neutral frame for activity, as a pointer for understanding the absence of colour in that realm of cultural production. Yet the repression of colour in western architecture has a long history. It goes back at least as far as the Renaissance when architecture was re-cast as an intellectual pursuit, after centuries of being practised as craft. Central to this re-casting was the way Renaissance theorists conceived classical architecture as a system with a set of rules to be followed. These ideas were then codified in treatises, where they were literally translated into text, with architecture implicitly adopting many of the structures of language. Where present, images for the most part were secondary to the text, and always in monochrome.

^Villa Pisani from Palladio's I Quattro Libri. Photo Wikimedia Commons

Of course, the lack of colour was determined by the primitive printing technology of the time, but it also reflected the fact that for Renaissance theorists form and line trumped colour. Their view of the architecture of the ancient world was one in which its power and virtue derived from the purity of its forms, from which colour was an unnecessary distraction and diversion.
Constructing the Canon
By the middle part of the eighteenth century, the primacy of the treatise had given way to direct experience of the architecture and art of the ancient world. But even as architects, artists and archaeologists were now studying at first-hand what generations before had known only through books, they rarely saw it through fresh eyes, at least when it came to questions of colour. Archaeological investigations had begun to reveal that ancient sculpture and architecture was very often painted in bright colours. So for those who clung to the idea that they were left bare, it required a remarkable act of cognitive dissonance to literally see past the colour of what they were discovering.
But this wasn’t just about personal preference, or even aesthetics. The entire canon of western culture had been built on the assumption that classical architecture and art was monochrome. The values of purity, authenticity, rationality and restraint that the classical ideal was made to embody rested on this fact. Colour, in contrast, connoted illusion, sensuousness and unchecked emotion, which could be admired in the exotic, Other or even feminine sphere, but which were excluded from the classical ideal. After all, canons define themselves at least as much by what they are not, as by what they admit.
Even as the hold of the classical over western culture diminished in the early years of the twentieth century, the primacy of its role in the origins of western culture, and by extension western civilisation, only increased.

^The Partheon in 2017. Photo Owen Hopkins

The confluence of classical culture and democratic values of fifth-century Athens was still seen as a unique event, reflective of universal values rather than as a product of particular or local conditions. By appealing to such subjective sensibilities as taste and fashion, the suggestion that classical sculpture was coloured fundamentally challenged this notion. This drove some in retrospect quite bizarre acts of cultural editing. Most significant by far was the sanding and polishing of the Parthenon sculptures by British Museum curators in the 1930s, which removed an original surface to make the sculptures appear brilliant white – quite literally burnishing their reputation as the fountainhead of western culture vitally held within a British institution.
Although the British Museum does not shy away from this unfortunate act – and it’s clearly not the kind of thing they’d contemplate doing today – it still even now surely forfeits their right to act as custodians of these artefacts. In that condition and in the context of the austere Duveen Galleries of the British Museum, the Parthenon sculptures are uncritically positioned in the pantheon of a western cultural tradition and civilisation, rather than as the product of a distinctly Athenian cultural and political moment that was subsequently appropriated. If the British Museum is in any way interested in presenting a critical survey of western culture that looks at how the canon is assembled and perpetuated, they would be far better off sending the originals back to Athens and showing a set of casts and perhaps even painting them.
Classical Appropriation
This episode reveals that the values we ascribe to colour in design, architecture and art are never neutral. The absence of colour in our conception of the classical plays the pivotal role of stripping it of its contingency and allowing it to exist as a kind of universal cultural idea. As a hegemonic, even quasi-imperial edifice it then becomes open for appropriation by dark political forces. Albert Speer looked to classical architecture because of the way he could use it to position the Third Reich as the inheritors of Roman civilisation and thereby assert the primacy of a western, specifically European race. The construct of a western culture intersects with other constructs, like race. In this way – and this is the critical point – the view of classicism as monochrome plays a central role in enabling its appropriation for reasons of legitimisation by those whose politics also asserts the primacy of whiteness, though with a rather different meaning.
We might look at the appropriation of the classical by totalitarian politics as a relic of the darkest moments of the twentieth century. Yet just as the classical remains central to our culture, so its appropriation remains possible. Today, the classical tradition is still being used to promote values that claim to be natural, intrinsic and universal to a decidedly western culture, with the obvious intent of excluding those who don’t conform. We’ve seen it in the persistent trolling of classicist Mary Beard after she pointed out that Roman Britain was far from racially homogeneous – challenging some of the myths of national identity propagated by the far right. 

^The Greengrocers' Order, 2016 by Ordinary Architecture. Photo Dunja Opalko

We also see it in a different way with the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ commission, the chief premise of which is that the reason Britain isn’t building enough new housing is because it isn’t beautiful, i.e. classical (even though the New London Vernacular that describes much of the housing currently going up in the capital is clearly channelling a stripped back version of the Georgian terrace). If only we built in the classical style, it claims, then people would be much less resistant to new housing, and maybe even welcome it. This positing of the classical as central to some kind of British vernacular is wholly disingenuous. Far from bringing people together around shared values and ideals, it is deeply exclusionary, by class, and also by race. Intriguingly these vernaculars are always rooted in the classical. The Gothic, which apart from at a few moments has long been a repository for a quite different set of values, hardly gets a look in.

^'New London Vernacular' at Elephant Park, London, 2017. Photo Owen Hopkins

More than Aesthetics
The values we ascribe to colour in architecture mean that it is not simply about aesthetics. As my living room currently attests, we’re not born recoiling from bright colour, bold patterns and formal complexity – just as no-one is born racist. We’re conditioned towards aesthetic restraint and conformity, even as our innate capacity to deal with and appreciate it increases. Whether the commentators on online magazines castigating the few colourful projects that slip through the editorial net realise it, what they’re criticising is not an aesthetic, but that which in their mind doesn’t conform. It’s not such a big step to extrapolate that position onto other things, ideas and people that don’t conform either. A monochrome culture is a one-dimensional culture, representing a single cultural ideal, free from nuance, contingency and complexity. How do we challenge this falsehood and prevent its appropriation? 

Simple: with colour.

^One Eagle Place by Eric Parry, 2013. Photo Adam Nathaniel Furman

Monday 3 September 2018

The Failed Utopia of the Crystal Chain

Exclusively for Saturated Space, a new text by Darran Anderson

"The Failed Utopia of the Crystal Chain" by Darran Anderson, examines the importance of light and colour for visionary German architects between the wars, and how unbuildable designs altered the future.  

Monday 23 July 2018

Color Imago: Paradigms of Colour

Exclusively for Saturated Space, a new text by Giacomo Pala

Pala explores different attitudes towards colour in architecture through the prism of three Austrian architects for whom colour and its utilization was extremely important, Adolf Loos, Josef Frank, and Hans Hollein

Wednesday 7 March 2018

The Orange and the Green

Exclusively for Saturated Space, a new text by Jon Astbury

"Paint is ubiquitous, one of the most prevalent mediators between vision and the built environment. And yet as a complex material in its own right, any discussion of paint is often subjugated to the realms of superficiality and superfluity: it isn’t party to discussions of architecture making, it is simply a form of clothing that architecture wears.

Here, using the example of MVRDV’s repainted Studio Thonik project in Amsterdam, the theoretical considerations that the use of paint and the act of painting can encourage will be considered, in an attempt to open up some areas in which its usage can be reclaimed as just as worthy of consideration as space or form."

Friday 24 November 2017

Blue Ufalei, Red Porphyry and Green Aluminium: The Polychrome World of Socialist Metro Systems

Exclusively for Saturated Space, a new text by Owen Hatherley

"Creating light-filled spaces dozens of metres under the ground is inherently difficult. From the 1930s until the 1990s, Metro stations across eastern Europe responded to this with multicoloured station halls, lined with exotically coloured materials, creating a surreal wonderland in the bowels of the earth."

Monday 12 June 2017

The Art of Pure Colour

Exclusively for Saturated Space, a new text by Valentino Danilo Matteis

"J. W. Root was one of the main figures in the history of Chicago architecture. This paper explores his theories on a colouristic approach towards building, and his extensive understanding of the contemporary debate in art and architecture through the example of his masterpiece, the Monadnock, a rather misunderstood building that condensed many of the architect’s ideas, but was deprived of others, above all its -and Root’s- astonishing sense of colour."

Thursday 4 May 2017

Aldo Rossi & Colour

“Souvenir d'Afrique”, Aldo Rossi, Tessiture Sarde, Storea editore, 1988

Jacopo Costanzo introduces us to the rich chromatic world of Rossi, its relationship to personal passion, local context, and a very particular Italian lineage.

Saturday 26 November 2016

Saturated Space VIII: Johanna Grawunder

Johanna Grawunder, an artist, architect and designer, takes us through her body of work, and shares a highly singular, sophisticated, and fun relationship with colour, materiality and light.

Saturated Space VIII: Johanna Grawunder from Saturated Space on Vimeo.

Friday 25 November 2016

Saturated Space VIII: Eric Parry

Eric Parry takes us through his interest in craft and polychromy, telling the story of his collaboration with artist Richard Deacon on the ceramic facade of One Eagle Place, Piccadilly.

Saturated Space VIII: Eric Parry from Saturated Space on Vimeo.

Thursday 24 November 2016

Saturated Space VIII: Nicholas Fox Weber

Nicholas Fox Weber discusses the relationships that Joseph and Anni Albers had with colour and Architecture, at Saturated Space VIII, an event at the Architectural Association on the 11th November 2016

Saturated Space VIII: Nicholas Fox Weber from Saturated Space on Vimeo.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Saturated Space VIII: Fiona McLachlan

Mc Lachlan's talk during Saturated Space VIII that we held at the Architectural Association on the 11th November 2016. She reveals colour strategies in architecture that were unearthed and explored in the research for "Colour Strategies in Architecture", which Fiona wrote with co-authors from the Haus der Farbe, Zurich, as well as in the exhibition of the same name at the Architectural Association.

Saturated Space VIII: Fiona McLachlan from Saturated Space on Vimeo.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

A Fleeting Glimpse of Heaven

Exclusively for Saturated Space Eleanor Jolliffe unearths the shimmering delights of the material, technical, historical, and experiential story of Byzantine architectural mosaics.

"The golden mosaics of Byzantine churches hold a particular allure to tourist and pilgrim alike. These timeless representations of the divine have fascinated viewers for centuries. This paper considers the manufacture, use and experience of the glass tiles, or tesserae, used in these mosaics- specifically gold tesserae.
Gold tesserae were used in ecclesiastical mosaics specifically as a representation of divine light, and, in collaboration with architectural form and curated lighting were crafted to inspire spiritual experiences. A modern viewing of these mosaics is vastly different to a Byzantine viewing and this paper also explores these differences, and the question of whether tesserae can still hold the same meaning and significance in the present day."

Friday 29 July 2016


^VW Polo Mark III Harlequin, 1995

There is shiny colour all around us, lining our streets. Cars are a cross between clothes and buildings - you wear them as much as inhabit them - and they make a permanent urban fashion parade. Exclusively for Saturated Space Hugh Pearman, editor of the RIBA Journal, discusses automobile colour as a vehicle of memory and association.

Monday 28 March 2016

In the Light of a Clear Blue Wall

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Neil Stephen Flannagan tells the story of colour in the spaces of Gallaudet University for the deaf and hard of hearing.

"A dull shade of blue is spreading on the walls of Gallaudet University. It’s not an official color, but rather a practical accommodation for its students, who are overwhelmingly Deaf and so primarily communicate in sign language. This blue provides a comfortable, clear background to read the hands and faces used to converse. The factors that make blue special connect race, digital media, and the peculiar rarity of the color in the human environment. What it implies is a clear functional role for coloration and a reminder that to be “human-centered,” design must grapple with troublesome issues of identity and history."

Sunday 13 September 2015

Whistler and Peacock Blue

^Whistler's Peacock Room, Neil Greentree / Freer Gallery of Art

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Amanda Kolson Hurley tells the engrossing, gossipy, tangled story of the genesis of the Peacock Room, its intimate relationship with Whistler the artist, and his reputation, the end it brought to a key friendship, all of which was deeply stained with the enigmatic and somewhat equivocal shade that suffused the room, and came to be known as Peacock Blue.

"The story behind James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room is one of high artistic ambition, a quarrel over money, and a broken friendship. Less well known is the origin of its color scheme, especially the color we have come to know as "peacock blue." Why did Whistler paint the room a moody teal and not, as one would expect, the deep blue of a peacock's breast? This article considers Whistler's color choices and argues that "peacock blue" is a shade that owes more to Whistler than to nature."

Monday 27 July 2015

Does the Barreleye Dream of Swiss Cheese? Windows, Mirrors and Holes

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Amelia Stein oscillates through the multiple transparencies -reflective, deep, superficial and profound- of our contemporary environment.

"This series of passages explores how transparency, reflectivity and opacity can adhere to, encroach on and confuse ideas about colour. It imagines a spectrum not just of light but of the mediation of light by these surface properties, which transmit, reflect and absorb light in time and space in ways both distinct from and connected to colour. Using the models of windows, mirrors and holes, and the examples of the barreleye fish, sunglasses and Swiss cheese, among others, this piece asks what we see when we look at, through, and into surfaces."

Sunday 12 July 2015

I'm Beginning to See the Light

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Jack Murphy delves into the world of Robert Irwin's chromatic emitters.

"Robert Irwin is an American artist from Los Angeles whose work deals with perception. Cacophonous, a show of recent light pieces at the Pace Gallery in New York City. Starting from the ready-made cool white fluorescent tube 6' or 8' in length, Irwin layers coloured gels—sometimes up to a dozen overlays—to manipulate, reflect, darken, or fully obscure the bulb's output. A visit to the show affords the opportunity to reflect generally on Irwin's use of colour throughout his career, and to dig deep into the rich chromatic experience of these works."

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Blinky Palermo's Wall drawings & Wall Paintings: Line, Colour and Consciousness

^Blinky Palermo, Wandmalerei im großen Saal der Kunsthalle, Kunsthalle Baden-Baden,
1970. Photograph Erika Fischer

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Mark Pimlott explores the subtle spatial ambiguities of Blinky Palermo's Wall works.

"This essay describes wall drawings and paintings made by German artist Blinky Palermo (born Peter Schwarze 1943 Leipzig-died 1977 Maldives). These works, no longer in existence, were bound to their architectural conditions, in art galleries, museums, temporary spaces for art or people’s homes. The form of these works varied from line drawings tracing architectural features to fields and figures of colour painted directly on walls that made viewers aware of the specific characteristics of envrionments, altering viewers' reading of them. The works were made within a practice of painting, and embedded within a phenomenological approach: their engagements with their settings activated those settings and their viewers’ relations to them. Although much has been made of Joseph Beuys’s influence on Palermo (he was a student of Beuys at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1963-1967), his work proposed a different role for art in society than Beuys: Palermo's work established his concerned with the viewer’s place in the world and accentuated consciousness as a vehicle for engagement therein."

Monday 9 February 2015

Colour As I See It

^Dorothy Liebes, High Mass, circa 1943. Photo: American Craft Council

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Alexa Griffith Winton introduces us to the dyed world of Dorothy Liebes, who filled the gap left between the human need for tactile, sensual engagement with the surrounding environment, and the austere spaces created by post-war Modernist orthodoxy.

"Interiors magazine, in an obituary of textile designer and hand weaver Dorothy Liebes in 1972, called her, “the mother of the twentieth-century palette.” Liebes’ unusual and often bold use of colour, metallics, and unusual materials in her hand woven fabrics for the home helped shape the look of the post-war domestic interior in the United States. This essay looks at her approach to working with architects and interior designers within the context of her approach to colour, as well as some of Liebes’ many writings on colour published in both popular and design magazines."

Thursday 18 December 2014

The Patriotic Face

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Joanne McNeil explores the evolution of eyeshadow pigments and attitudes towards make-up.

"This essay considers the aesthetics of eyeshadow pigments. Decades ago, blue was as customary an eyeshadow colour as lipstick in red. This pairing was patriotic, rather than natural, trimming skin to match the the Union Jack or the American Flag. Now blue eyeshadow is considered tacky and dated. It is more commonly sold in neutral muted shades of mulberry, olive, and taupe. These “natural” shades are just as decorative, in no way resembling the colour of human skin. Eyeshadow is to the face what curtains are to the stage."

Please either use the embedded reader below or click HERE to read the text.