• Davide

Unagru debates colour in architecture. Part 2

Davide's comments following the first post by the Unagru team.

This is a fascinating debate and one I am very fond of.

Given my background and annoying nature, I would try to structure the argument more clearly. I would also describe our project’s relation more in-depth. Finally, colour is very personal. It might be helpful to investigate the artists’ houses to try and find some correspondence between life and work or between artists’ work and consistent forms of living. Now I imagine showing several artworks to clients and extrapolating their ideal colour scheme.

Back to the structure. Intro. The human perception and colours. What is the effect of colours, and what is their use? Why does the human brain even perceive colours? This is evolutionary neuroscience. The human eye is not comfortable in the presence of plain and consistent surfaces such as a perfectly white wall (in praise of imperfect decorators). We are more comfortable with slight colour variations and textures. Natural materials have this advantage. The first quote in the blog post is so important: there is no colourless architecture.

It’s enough to think of a Carlo Scarpa interior or the exterior of San Marco and the Doge Palace in Venice. Other incredibly colourful interiors I remember are Bernini’s churches.

1. The first distinction I would make is between interior and exterior colours. Interior and exterior surfaces serve different purposes. The exterior embodies the building’s civic, contextual, and representative character. Instead, the interior represents the comfort or lack of thereof, the buildings’ protective, atmospheric, everyday nature. Second, colours in front of us and colours around us: interiors. Interiors are the essence of architecture, the art that surrounds the user. The exterior architecture is the social and political value of architecture, city building environment and community. For some reason, interiors tend to be discounted in favour of the exterior, especially in academia. On the other hand, several formal and informal houses around Napoli are left unfinished on the outside, while the interiors are vibrant. Even when finished, usually the exteriors were pretty unimaginative: coloured render and metal railings.

The second is the use of the building. From a phenomenological or experiential point of view, anything experienced daily will slowly evolve into something different and will inevitably build a stronger relationship with the user. The second reason and the basis for a final distinction are between everyday personal or nuclear experience, e.g. the house lived by one family, versus the regular use of several people, like in workspaces, schools, versus places experienced by the masses and only seldom be different from something that is perceived sell them. Moving from the first to the latter, the expression and ambitions of the building are less and less personal and will quickly become more generic. Commercial buildings tend to be closer to houses because modern marketing strategies usually require that a brand is reflected in every aspect of a company’s communication. Even more particular or personal can be small companies’ commercial premises, which reflect the founder’s personalities. In other words, colour is a way for the building to talk and be louder.

Finally, I think the building should have a say. I don’t want to sound boring, but I believe in some form of plausible relation - excluding restaurants, bars, clubs and maybe hotels - between interior and exterior. I can’t explain it enough; it has to do with coherence, or avoiding visual short-circuits. For example, I live in a zinc-clad, large windowed, crisp-cornered 2010’s building. The interiors are the epitome of standardisation: 2500mm ceilings, 2 metre high doors, glossy white kitchen, wood floor in the living areas, carpet in the bedrooms, and grey tiles in the bathrooms. When I thought about personalising the space (I had to, of course), I felt that I needed to respect the essence of the flat and the building. So I opted for patches of plain colour (every door and every frame are coloured), coloured joinery (IKEA or designed by me), and plants. In other words, I find there is added beauty in the economy of means and coherence of style.