Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Nothing That Consumes: How Battleship Gray Changed Design


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" 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."


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