Friday, 18 March 2016

Welcome



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.



Sunday, 23 November 2014

I Want to Invent this Colour

^Samsung Smartphone Homescreen

by Shumon Basar

I want to invent this colour. Lord knows all and he knows I'm trying. Ideally it would *just* happen, but not just like *Just Jared*. You see, I dreamt a dream in which I manage to index every colour I've ever seen -- acknowledged and not -- and from this archive that, as far as humans know, does not exist in time and in space, I concoct a single colour. It remains unnamed. Partly because I shun the pseudo poetics of 'Evening Lilac Shade' or 'Jam Surprise,' affronts to colour’s innate gaiety. And do not get me started on their numeric counterparts. Faceless strings of digits the spawn of industrialization. Soon comes the day, once again, when we name people, your children of the future, after strings of numbers. The ones their skin most closely resembles. I want to invent a colour that started in that dream -- and when you see it you will struggle to describe it too. I am not so immodest as to want to invent a new way of seeing. I leave that to the boys and girls of Silicon Valley and Seoul. I am writing to my old schoolteacher, Ms. Elceedee, a dowager now dwindling into senescence, who taunted me and told me I'd amount to nothing on this earth. I am writing to tell her about the colour I plan on inventing, most magnificent, beyond the limited scope of her punitive imagination, and that of my own heart's sight. The hues will erupt in unison. Swans will bow. Mountains blush. Search engines will wither. Prisoners will find peace. The only oversight in this otherwise most formidable plan is not knowing its fucking name. A name that people -- cultured, svelte, caring, fans of yoga -- can drop into their polite dinner conversations in and around the topics of sky, coats, skin, sex, simulations and vacation. I'm going to invent this amazing fucking colour bitch -- and by bitch I do not mean you, or any woman. I apologize, but, I just heard the phrase on a YouTube video that's been trending rather well of late. The sound was so crisp. It boomed from this TV, the size of a small state or large child, which, when switched on by retina eye recognition + NSA verification, the screen lit up in an array of colours only ever cited by the lucky few who venture North to the Aurora Borealis. That impossibly smooth landscape of vaporous colour bleeding seamlessly into each other. Perfect gradients. Cries and whispers. This colour, which cannot remain so doggedly without moniker forever, dear Lord, this colour is the one I want to invent.


Shumon Basar is a writer currently working on a book with Douglas Coupland and Hans Ulrich Obrist entitled The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present, which will be published by Penguin in March 2015. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Blue is For Blondes

^Parents Magazine, July 1970

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Alexandra Lange explores the evolution of American children's colour-space in the 20th Century.

"Recent research on the history of children and color shows that the gender binary (blue is for boys, pink is for girls) is of postwar vintage. Color has been an indicator, in the pint-sized realm, of so many other things. Age, separating the wardrobe of white-dressed infants from the breeched in colored rompers or knickers. Interests, manifested in wallpapers with transportation scenes or Western stampedes. Program, with bright colors in the playroom and soothing hues in the bedroom. Complexion, red for brunettes and blue for blondes. This essay explores a few of those choices, which overlap and interweave rather than advancing toward a color-coded future."

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




N.B the following note from the author:
"As my title suggests, the texts and images I examined seem to mean, by and large, "white children" when they say children. When talking about children and color, particularly in reference to complexion and appropriate historical themes, I expect there were different recommendations for non-white children historically, and indeed separate merchandising and advertising histories in the early 20th century. I did not find good references to such material in this first pass at the topic, but acknowledge the omission and plan to research further."

Monday, 3 November 2014

Your Gaze

^image from Tim Maughan's Instagram Feed

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Tim Maughan explores through prose the effect that digital consumption and the 'instagrammed' mediation of reality has on the timbre of our vision.

"Originally conceived by imagining what the world might look like if we could apply Instagram style colour filters to reality, 'Your gaze, brought to you by our sponsors' ended up being an exploration of how digital palettes alienate us from the true colours of reality, how the male gaze shades virtual worlds, and how social media has made us all the content between advertisements."


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

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Pink Shirts & Pugin

^‘A little yellow drawing‐room’ painting by W.B.E.. Ranken from Basil Ionides, Colour and Interior Decoration, 1926

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Timothy Brittain-Catlin, author of "Bleak Houses: Disappointment and Failure in Architecture", writes about colour as an architectural weapon in the domestic environment.

"One doesn’t tend to think of interior designers as being natural terrorists, but in common with artists of other kinds they can deploy colours as if they were weapons, and they have a rich arsenal of materials with which to do it. A fully designed modern interior will plant colours into the house at different scales with different textures, in order to inflict a sequence of unavoidable colour combinations on the residents.

Architects should learn from this. Architecture is, so we think, a bigger thing than interior design, mainly because its elements are meant to be there for ever. This paper described how colour in architecture can be and has been deployed as a weapon against the unsuspecting."

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


Monday, 15 September 2014

Only Illusions and Nothing to Hide

^Marble floor tiling from the Capitoline Museum in Rome. According to the Capitoline Museum's website it's from the first half of the 4th century AD, recovered from the Esquiline Hill in Rome (Basilica lunii Bassi)

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Molly McCormick writes about the complex relationship between coloured marble and Roman Identity.

"Over the course of two centuries, Ancient Rome evolved from red brick backwater town to the coloured marble centre of the western world. However it didn't happen without a fight. To Pre-Imperial Senators, coloured marble was both alluring and dangerous: deathly cold, hotly debated. So how exactly did it become the covering of the Caput Mundi? For that, we look at a history of exoticism, misogyny, public relations and Imperial might that revolved around a seemingly innocuous material. One that was, eventually, essential to the culture of the eternal city. Both then and now."

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

Monday, 25 August 2014

Shades of Grey

^Student, Gerhard Richter, Oin on Canvas 1967 (source)

A Saturated Space contribution by Bernd Upmeyer, editor-in-chief of Monu magazine, that looks as Grey as a veil for the diversity of the full colour spectrum, an analogical symbol for a unity between multiplicities which he explores at the scale of publication, architecture and the city.

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


Monday, 4 August 2014

Ermine It Ain't

^Boris Johnson visiting the Crossrail dig

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Will Wiles (Author, Freelance writer and contributing editor for Icon Magazine) writes about the paradoxical invisibility of the ubiquitous, socially ambiguous, and as he discovers politically revealing phenomenon of Hi-Viz clothing.

"Fluorescent high-visibility safety gear has risen to dominate the British workplace and street scene. It's now commonplace to observe that the bright stuff, intended to be seen, has been made invisible by its ubiquity. But hi-viz is loaded with complicated and often contradictory meanings, and is increasingly prey to right-wing political appropriation – as the uniform of “hardworking people” – and condemnation – as the sign of “health and safety” and petty officialdom run riot. It has much to say about work, class and authority in modern Britain. Perhaps it's time to make it visible again."

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


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

It Ain’t Just (Black and) White: Thoughts on Colour in Architecture

^ James Turrell, the wolfsburg project at the kunstmuseum Germany

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Aaron Betsky writes an epic meander through the interrelationships between nature, the man-made, modernism and the local, the digital and the artistic, via the tones and hues of the spaces our bodies inhabit and which our architects design. Seeing the current design of spaces blending into a uniform gradient of smooth grays, he holds up some profound traditional, and excellent contemporary examples of inspiring alternative trajectories which defy the fashionable march into colourless entropy.

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


Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Meeting Chroma the Great: Pantone, From Chemistry to Fashion and Back


Exclusively for Saturated Space, Margaret McCormick writes about that ever- fashionable, and seemingly ubiquitous colour-matching corporation, Pantone.


"From its humble beginnings in 1963, Pantone made itself essential to manufacturing on a global scale via the creation of the Pantone Matching System (PMS) ® which revolutionized colour reproduction and selection. Though in the wake of the digital age, the company has sought a new image to stay relevant. Now describing itself as the “authority” on colour, Pantone has cornered the market on what makes a colour cool, hip and fashionable. But how does “cool” happen? What makes Pantone the authority and how does this change in branding affect a greater discourse of design?


The answer is one of perception and precedent, marketing and manufacturing, chemistry and charisma."

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


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Colour Purple in Ancient Rome

^Purple Blood, by Kurt Cobain

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Mark Bradley tells the story of Roman attitudes to authenticity and wealth through the colour purple...

Purple was, in a number of ways, the most important colour of classical antiquity. It was the colour of one of the fastest and most expensive dyes available to Rome, and for the imaginative Roman observer it could also describe the sea, blood, flowers, gems and marbles, even swans and rainbows. During the Roman Empire, it became increasingly associated with imperial authority, and politicians, poets and historians developed a sophisticated and versatile language for distinguishing and describing the various shades and patterns of purple that were available. This paper explores how one colour evolved as a marker of political, social and religious authority from the early Empire through to late antiquity, and discusses its development as an aesthetic category that qualified and distinguished a wide range of objects and phenomena. By examining the transformation of purple in ancient Rome, this paper puts to the test the axiom that the senses, and the way they are used, are shaped by the social and cultural preoccupations of the time.

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



Monday, 14 April 2014

Ruby Slippers: A Journey with Colour in the Land of Oz

^illustration by W.W. Denslow, 1900

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Hillary Bretcko writes about colour in the Land of Oz, and by extension, our cities through the lens of imagination...


"First published in 1900, L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was revolutionary in its treatment of fictional worlds and the book as an object inherently tied the the story. This investigation into Dorothy's tale traces the use of colour throughout the book as it relates to themes of place, identity, artificiality, and perception as well as how the Wizard's City of Emeralds parallels our contemporary understanding of the global City."

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

Monday, 10 March 2014

Two Photographies

^RMIT Swanston Building by Lyons Architects, Melbourne  <source>

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Douglas Murphy writes about colour in architectural photography...


"The new media world of design blogs and other platforms have changed the way that architectural photography is experienced, and a new generation of photographers have been developing a new digital aesthetic for depicting architecture. This essay discusses the strange experience of seeing canonical buildings of the modern period portrayed in a different photographic style to convention, and discusses some of the links between the development of late 20th century architectural styles and changes in the conventions photographic depiction, focusing primarily of the introduction and transition to colour photography within architectural publishing."

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


Thursday, 20 February 2014

Colour as Synaesthetic Experience in Antiquity

^ "The Wine-Dark Sea" by Randall Stoltzfus (2004)


Dr Mark Bradley writes for us about the broad range of allusive meanings and sensory references mixed up in the delightfully metaphoric & inconstant nature of colour description in the ancient world.

"Colour is about more than just lightwaves hitting the retina. In ancient philosophical circles, colour was often described as the primary object of vision: it was the external ‘skin’ that existed at the surface of an object, and what made the object visible or ‘sensible’ to a viewer. And yet, Greek and Roman literature is riddled with examples of colour categories that do not make sense simply in visual terms: from Homer’s ‘wine-dark sea’ to ‘whey-coloured’ skin in ancient medicine, from blushing faces to the honey-coloured hair and marbled skin of coveted girls in Augustan elegy, and from the saffron garments of decadent easterners to the expensive fishy-smelling purple robes of the late-antique imperial court, colours appealed not just to sight, but also to smell, touch and taste. This essay suggests that colours in pre-modern societies such as Greece and Rome, because of their close ties to specific objects and phenomena (rather than just parts of the spectrum), were frequently synaesthetic experiences which appealed to multiple senses and mobilized more than just eyesight. Colour was a basic unit of sensory information through which ancients experienced and evaluated the world around them, and the collaboration of the senses in these experiences suggests an approach to perception, knowledge and understanding that could be very different from that employed in the modern west."

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




Reproduced with the permission of Acumen Publishing from S. Butler and A. Purves (eds) (2013) Synaesthesia and the Ancient Senses (‘The Senses in Antiquity’ series, volume I). Durham: Acumen. See

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Saturated Space V: The Drama of Colour


Thanks to everyone who came to our fifth event at the AA on the 10th February 2014, marking the second anniversary of much colourful discourse about Architecture, Urbanism and the Arts.
Please see below for the online versions of the lectures that were given that day, and click HERE for the rest of the online lectures on our Vimeo channel.


Above, Juliet Rufford on Performance Studies & the Uses of Theatricality


Above, Ivana Wingham on the Roman Baroque & Illusion



Above, Brian Hatton on Decoration Vs Ornament


Above, Antoni Malinowski on the Theatricality of Colour & Line


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Out of the Blue and Into the Pink

^Still from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" 1953, 20th Century Fox (source)

Exclusively for Saturated Space, Courtney Coffman writes about the 'colour that shall not be named', the luminous prancing preening painted fleshy omnipresent elephant in architecture's proverbially very white, abstracted and empty room...

"Culturally known as the most kitsch and taboo colour, pink has been making a recent appearance in contemporary architecture. At present, the history of pink in its use in architecture and art has been theorized and recognized by few, yet the use of pink elicits modalities of affect. Moving beyond the confines of domesticity and feminine spaces, pink may be claiming new disciplinary territories but there remains a self-consciousness as many practitioners restrict its application to interior-specific conditions. Yet, when pink does move into an exterior condition, the project remains domestic in scale. From book covers, installations, interiors, pop-up shelters and objects du jour, it seems fitting that pink is saturating contemporary discourse as the colour itself oscillates between natural and artificial, flesh and mechanization, innocence and sexuality. More definitive than the themes pink embodies is the specific hue of pink in contemporary work: magenta. Perhaps magenta is the new-and-improved cathode ray blue, despite its appropriation to novelty and popular culture."

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

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Nothing That Consumes: How Battleship Gray Changed Design

^source


Exclusively for Saturated Space, Margaret McCormick writes about the inadvertent rise of an all-consuming grayness so prevalent, so ubiquitous that we no longer even notice it, its insipidness, the lowness of its omnipresent chromatic common denominator.


In 1909 the Royal Navy began painting everything within grasp a vague, nothing kind of colour, one that was intended to be useful, not beautiful. Yet over 100 years later “Battleship Gray” has become the inescapable basis of almost all design and subsequently, most of the physical world. More than a post-war standard-issue metaphor for bureaucratic oppression or a dogmatic footnote in architectural academia, it is the colour of purgatory and boredom, the promise of a future while the soul is mortgaged: doing far more for and to design that it has ever been credit for. Further, the only way to break the bonds of its oppression is to acknowledge it as fact.



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


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Shanghai de Lux: Projecting Modernity


Exclusively for Saturated Space, Evan Chakroff writes about Shanghai, its lights, its past and its projected future present.

"In Shanghai, light and colour give designers, planners, and policy makers the freedom to present an idealized image of their buildings, their city. Dynamic, animated lights dance through the haze, but hidden by darkness, massive fissures split the sidewalks, the water is undrinkable, and the air is toxic. While the idealized image the city seeks to project is one of uncontested modernity, conditions on the ground (in the harsh light of day) deny this. Architectural lighting is thus instrumental – even essential - in the projection of modernity, and represents a key aspect of Chinese society’s reclamation of agency following a long period of oppression and turmoil."

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

Monday, 2 September 2013

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? 

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

Friday, 26 July 2013

Eupnea





"Eupnea" is a film by artist Ilona Sagar exclusively for Saturated Space. It explores the colour-space of healthcare environments in Britain, which to this day are guided in their design by colour analyses from the 1950s. This has created a historic and continuing relationship for millions of people between whole generations of memories and experiences across the gamut of life's most intense moments -from birth, to illness, dementia, and death- in which specific colours, surfaces and spaces become intertwined, become active players in the pain, hope, fear and release of the NHS' countless visitors.


Please be advised that this film is best viewed with headphones.




Artist's Description:

"The film focuses on the connection between colour, health and well-being through its manifestation in the design of hospitals. Hospitals can be seen as the site of a collision between internal and external languages in design, cognition and the human body. The external syntax of technical & functional systems clashes with an internal language which is messier, more visceral and emotional.

The film is an attempt to destabilise the identity and lineage of familiar municipal design languages and question the impact such syntax have. Much of the aesthetic of the film is charged with the Faden Birren functional colour chart for hospitals, schools and factories (1950,61,87). The highly influential therorist, Birren was primarily interested in the function of colour in workplace environments, and how to positively improve or challenge public, or shared environments. His functional colour schemes utilised tangible evidence rather than individual taste as their basis. Although the colour chart has become outmoded in other public sectors, it has been consistently referred to and used in the design of care environments. Originally intended to stimulate, heal and break up the institutional aesthetic, these colours have since become most strongly associated with the institutions of health.

As a part of the development of the film I interviewed ex-patients, health workers and architects anonymously about their experience of the hospital environment, with a particular emphasis on colour. They were asked to give an account of their time there without naming themselves, the hospital, or the reason for their stay. These monologues capture recollections of colour, form, texture and the subjects’ personal, often discordant relationships with the space.

Daylight green, dust yellow and muted blue are a few of the colours from Birren’s charts which have featured repeatedly in the interviews I have conducted.

The soundtrack to the piece features the choir 'Force Majeure'. Key to the design of a health environments is the visceral body, both as a passive and active agent. The choir takes on the role of an ‘organ’ or ‘organism’ both as musical construction and a body of people. The sounds produced by ‘Force Majeure’ range from abstract and onomatopoeic to the more familiar strains of traditional music. They represent a mute and stuttering dysfunctional language within design, but also in the body.

These intense layers of experience form a film work that can be read as a description of an existing building or a proposal and stimulus for a new health environment. In fact the film will define a space that sits somewhere between analysed reality and fictional proposal in an effort to interrogate the tacit meanings embodied within these charged spaces, and our relationship to them."



Credits:

Voice Over: Penelope McGhie 
Choir: 'Force Majeure'
Sound Design: Doug Haywood
Gaffer: Tom Nowell

Ilona Sagar (b.1985, lives and works in London) received her BA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College (2008) and her MFA in Sculpture from the Royal College of Art (2012). Sagar explores our shared interactions in both public and private space through the construction of fractured multimedia narratives, which are often overlaid with institutional system codes native to museums, churches and theaters. Recent exhibitions include Part of a Larger Whole, EU Commission (2013) UK, FEST13 New Directors Film festival (2013) POR, Heart of Darkness, Le Centre national d’art contemporain, Nice FR (2012); Unsound House, Carslaw St Lukes (2012); The Visionary Trading Project, Guest Projects (2012); States of Matter, the Swiss Church (2011); and Architectural Playgrounds, Barbican Gallery (2010). This October she will complete a commission for Art on the Underground in association with the publication Art Licks.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Mucha Luz: A tale of Painters and Spaces in the Tropics

^Jaime Gili. “Posters for Posts”. Tynemouth, 2012. Archivo Jaime Gili


Exclusively for Saturated Space: Jaime Gili explores the impact of Tropical light and context on the modern tradition of Venezualan painting. From Armando Reveron and his 'blinding excess' of light through the Cineticos and their optically vibrating, phenomenally engaged work, and up to his own oeuvre, Gili questions the platitude that colours come from a country’s environment entirely, positing instead more historic, international, and yet personal origins for an artist’s palette. With an exemplary house in Caracas by Gio Ponti as the ideographic fulcrum representing the rich mixture of influences and ideas, tastes, styles and values that formed the context for many of these artists’ production, Gili introduces us to the world and heritage of the mobile, trans-cultural, but still very much grounded 21st century Venezualan artist.

For the article please use the embedded reader below or click HERE. If you are using Google Chrome and cannot see the reader below, please clear your browser cache & cookies, and it will become visible.





Monday, 1 April 2013

Little Castles Revisited: Formstone, Colour, Mimesis & Power

^Rowhouses in Baltimore faced with Formstone, photo by John McCartin


Exclusively for Saturated Space: A detailed look into the urban phenomenon of formstone in Baltimore, Maryland. From its invention as a technique, to its cultural significance and aesthetic impact as a ubiquitous streetside presence, and on to its role as an architectural emblem of socio-political transformation initially in the 20th Century and again now in the 21st; John McCartin takes a humble, colourfully applied surface finish, and reveals it to be a unique and potent agent provocateur in the perpetual field of representation and transformation that are our inner cities.


For the article please use the embedded reader below or click HERE. If you are using Google Chrome and cannot see the reader below, please clear your browser cache & cookies, and it will become visible.






Monday, 4 March 2013

Weathering as a Colour Design Factor


Exclusively for Saturated Space: From Eero Saarinen to Gigon / Guyer, and from concrete oxidisation to artificially cultivated Lichen, Giacomo Magnani explores the natural aging processes of building materials as an active agent of architectural enrichment.

For the article please use the embedded reader below or click HERE. If you are using Google Chrome and cannot see the reader below, please clear your browser cache & cookies, and it will become visible.






Friday, 8 February 2013

Subject, Theory, Practice: An Architecture of Creative Engagement

A film made by Saturated Space Curator Adam Nathaniel Furman that ruminates on the place of the designer in search of depth, but in love with plenty, in the Saturated world of the 21st Century.




“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” José Ortega y Gasset

"In a world where grazing is the norm, in which the bitesize is the ideal that conflates ease of consumption with value, where yoghurts are increased in sales price by being reduced in size and packaged like medicines, downed in one gulp; in a world where choice is a democratic obligation that obliterates enjoyment, forced on consumers through the constant tasting, buying and trying of ever more gadgets; a world in which thoughts, concepts -entire lives- are fragmented into the instantaneous nothings of tweets and profile updates; it is in this world, where students of architecture graze Dezeen dot com and ArchDaily, hoovering up images in random succession with no method of differentiation or judgement, where architects -like everyone else- follow the dictum ‘what does not fit on the screen, won’t be seen’, where attentions rarely span longer than a minute, and architectural theory online has found the same formula as Danone’s Actimel (concepts downed in one gulp, delivered in no longer than 300 words!), conflating relevance with ease of consumption; it is in this world of exponentially multiplying inputs that we find ourselves looking at our work and asking ‘what is theory, and what is practice?’, and finding that whilst we yearn for the Modernist certainties of a body of work, of a lifelong ‘project’ in the context of a broader epoch-long ‘shared project’ on the one hand, and the ideas against which these projects can be critically tested on the other; we are actually embedded in an era in which any such oppositions, any such certainties have collapsed, and in which it is our duty –without nostalgia, but with bright eyes and bushy tails untainted by irony- to look for new relationships that can generate meaning, in a substantial manner, over the course of a professional life.

This film is a short section through this process from May 2012."



A Madam Studio Production by Adam Nathaniel Furman and Marco Ginex

Sunday, 27 January 2013

What is Architectural Colour?

^Luis Barragán, Yellow house in Monterrey, Mexico

The following article by Peter Wilson, Director of Bolles & Wilson Architects, is a review of Fiona McLachlan's book "Architectural Colour in the Professional Palette", published by Routledge.


Who might the audience be for a book called 'Architectural Colour in the Professional Palette'? In the opening pages Fiona McLachlan tells us that this book is a tool for professionals. One suspects this may well be a market identified by the publishers Routledge. In presenting a broad sweep of recent and already much published polychromatic buildings it is insistently neoteric, more likely to appeal to students wanting to make a speed start on current architectural modes.  The poor practitioner looking for a colour for a current job might not make his or her deadline with this book in hand. It is a question of format, a question Le Corbusier well understood in marketing his pre-selected colour Keyboards for the wallpaper manufacturer Salubra. I am fingering the full-page matt swaths now while writing and I must confess salivating. Colour is an emotional issue, one that engages both physiological and sensual encodings of memory and atmosphere. This is perhaps why colour theory is so difficult to swallow. Having gagged on both Goethe and Itten, my favourite appetizer is Joseph Albers 'Interaction of Colour', printed in black and white with only a few full-page colour fields (glosssy like the Routledge publication, not good for fingering).

For the student or the diligent practitioner Fiona McLachlan's book is dense with informative reference,  Pugin, Ruskin or Semper co-habitating here harmoniously with those who rejected their eclecticism, Bauhaus theory  (Itten and Albers) or non-objectivists (Barnett Newman, Rothko, Bridget Riley). Curiously almost all colour theory seems to emanate from middle European sources.  A particular contemporary strain of Anglo-Germanic propping underpins the first of the eight exemplary practices scanned in these pages. Much of Caruso StJohn's kudos derives from their belonging to the Semper camp. But who was Gottfried Semper? And what tools do we need to revive such mid-nineteenth century debates? Unfortunately Fiona Mclachlan's book does not take us deep into the controversy of Semper's 1834 `Preliminary Remarks on Polychrome Architecture and Sculpture in Antiquity' nor into his theory of Wandbekleidung (Wall Clothing) - legitimizing the autonomy of the facade from tectonic or formal issues (a reference long championed by Adam Caruso's ETH professorial predecessor, HansKolhoff).

Architectural Colour might not be a handbook, but it is certainly a map of the author's role models. A few examples of her own polychromic work stand well in their proximity. The texts read like eight mini-monographs: the architectural horizon seen from an Anglo Saxon perspective in the opening years of the 21st century. One can only agree with this canonization of O'Donnel + Tuomey or Gigon/Guyer, but curiously we have to wait to almost the end of the book for the high priests of polychromy, Sauerbruch Hutton, who unlike many of the others, bite the bullet and choose their own colours, 'Delicious'- as Louisa Hutton describes her hues, 'anti-decorative' as Kurt Forster might add. Little play is made of Sauerbruch Hutton's Indian epiphany nor of other characters that colour the British architectural scene. I am thinking here of Richard Rogers partner Mike Davis, colour coded Red since the 1960's, a gift for a colour theorist, or JimStirling who John Tuomey once reported had a wardrobe full of his signature tent size blue shirts. The Mexican Louis Barragan whom Fiona McLachlan  describes as a South American architect, is inexplicably underplayed. It was Barragan's pinks and yellows that Anni Albers (wife of Joseph) introduced to MOMA, instigating a sensuous erosion of functionalism, a significant paradigm shift on a not-that-distant architectural horizon.

We are informed in the text that 'modern paint dries quickly due to the alkyd used in the resin, but is more brittle and can crack over time', hopefully this will not also be the fate of this book which records where we were at in 2012. Taking in a larger timescale of colour theory we would expect to encounter what Stephen Holl wants to activate, 'the metaphysical properties of colour and light', which would lead us in the direction of Merleau-Ponty asserting that 'colour is a modality of the enveloping presence of the sensory field'. A possible explanation for Fiona McLachlan's enigmatic sentence, 'Hermeneutic theory suggests that the design process is imbued throughout with interpretation' - an invitation either to glance in the direction of the German philosopher Hans Georg Gadamer, or a door opening to a long forgotten emblematic status of colour: Red signalling the dignity of Mars, Blue the piety and sincerity of Jupiter, green the felicity and pleasure of Venus.

Admirable as this book is, it is limited by the ability of language to evoke vivid experiential phenomena, an archaic art which the geisha Sei Shonagon mastered around 1000 AD in her Pillow Book; 'for undergarments in summer I like violet and white..... I also like clothing of brilliant silk and garments that are white on one side and sombre red on the back....  for fans with yellow paper I like a red frame and for fans with violet/purple paper I like a green frame... for women's cloaks I like bright colours, the colour of a vine, a cherry tint, a plumb-tree red shade ...  all bright colours are pretty.'

Peter Wilson. Münster- January 2013

Friday, 7 December 2012

Coloured Poetics: Hélio Oiticica’s Magic Square No.5


An original text for Saturated Space by Time Out Art Critic Florence Woodfield. Through the essay, an exploration is traversed of Hélio Oiticica's installation 'Magic Square No.5' as a non-object, a test case in colour as structure, and key agent in the formation of experience, pleasure, delight and surprise...

Please click here, or on the link below for the text...