April/May 2015: Springtime and Color
Look outside. The sun is shining, grass is growing, buds are sprouting on tree branches, and flowers are blooming. After a long, cold, lonely winter, we were so happy about seeing spring color again here at Springboard Design that we wanted to shout/write about it. What is there to say about color in our practice of architecture? A month or so ago, we began to think about color and its relationship to our practice of architecture in preparation for this newsletter.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to this newsletter. While we were thinking about how we like to use color at Springboard Design – its meanings, how it works, what we perceive on buildings and in environments – we received an email from Adam Nye, Director of the City As Our Campus program at Pittsburgh’s Winchester Thurston School. As their website testifies, City As Our Campus provides:
“meaningful and authentic learning experiences by utilizing community resources to interact with diverse people and environments, gain access to various tools and materials, learn from the expertise of others, and understand the issues and events happening in our community. This community-based approach allows our students to not only gain an awareness of our community, but also increases their investment in the well-being of it….It challenges students in authentic and relevant ways, making their learning deep and meaningful.”
In his email, Adam suggested a collaboration between three students – Alek Binion, Mathieu Lebiere, and Teddy Boyd – in English Teacher Christine Benner Dixon’s twelfth grade English class.
The challenge we proposed was writing this month’s newsletter about color in Architecture! We met with the students once in person during this period, and had several phone conversations and email exchanges along the way. The hardest part of the project, we explained, was that while we use color very intentionally, we have yet to evolve a coherent theory of color in architecture. So, their challenge was to figure out what might be interesting for you, our readers, to consider on the subject while exploring what Springboard Design has done with color in the past and where that might lead us.
Honestly, given a difficult challenge with a finite timeframe, the fuzzy prompt, and the enormity of the topic itself, the students did a phenomenal job. So, here, in the next few paragraphs, we share their efforts with you:
Color and Architecture
Alek Binion, Mathieu Lebiere, and Teddy Boyd
In this month’s newsletter we will be discussing color, the area of design which has been argued to play a primary role in determining individuals’ neuro-psychologic, physiologic, ergonomic, and emotional states within an environment. If that bit of jargon made you feel a little blue, don’t be sad, because we are only talking about color! Color theory is as colorful as it is, well, colorful and today we hope to provide you with a brief inlet into the field and give you a better understanding of the vibrant world around you. So sit back, relax, and be prepared to take a leisurely stroll through some of the philosophy, psychology, history, and science surrounding this everyday phenomenon, specifically in its link to the world of architecture.
Whether you are currently green with envy or yellow with fear, color has been indubitably linked to the human psyche in both the fields of art and science. Color and psychology have been formally intertwined for hundreds of years; as early as the 1600’s, “aesthetics” became an important aspect of philosophy dealing with art and the appreciation of beauty. Writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang Goethe studied color effects on the mind, even publishing a work entitled the “Wheel of Temperaments,” a color wheel diagram matching colors to emotional states and professions (5). While many prominent theorists throughout history have dabbled in color psychology, the most prolific of these color connoisseurs might be painter Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky’s color theory merges emotion, sound, and sight into one mass of sensory stimulation made possible by his synesthetic mind. Green, for example, represents resilience, hidden strength, and the sound of a drawn out note on the middle position of violin; blue connotes mourning, “the supernatural”, and the organ; and yellow suggests warmth, madness, and the sound of sharp trumpets (3)(4).
Let’s relate this discussion back to Springboard Design. For starters, we reviewed Springboard’s color selections for the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s new location. The center will feature a linear design concept that is reinforced by a monochromatic to polychromatic gradient, each room progressing in succession from the grey to color, culminating in red. Kandinsky’s theorem states that gray is a combination of “silence, hopelessness, and immovability,” while red is “trumpets, striving towards a goal, and strength.” We appreciate that the combination of grays and reds is a fitting set of colors for a cultural institution designed to both educate a community on Holocaust experiences and inspire future positive action.
Springboard Design uses color to maximize the impact of subtle spacial transitions, as exemplified in the UCP / Class Headquarters in Swissvale. The client wanted an open office, so Springboard Design decided to use colors as a way to promote various types of work flow in a single space. They sub-divided the space using color; subsets of the room being painted red, blue, and turquoise. Blue is thought to encourage productivity through its calming effects, red has been demonstrated to raise body temperature and the energy of a space, and turquoise adds warmth and helps balance the palette of the room. In fact, blue light has been shown to decrease one’s heart rate, body temperature and overall stress levels (9). Through their color selections, the designers hoped to encourage productivity, innovation, and balance within the UCP workplace, positively contributing to the efficiency of the company and the comfort of their employees.
Many different aspects of building design can be calculated and analyzed in terms of their effect on the occupants. While that is true for paint colors, there are still qualitative aspects to color that are more difficult to measure. Our interpretation of color is simultaneously analytic and intuitive, perceptual and physiological. Color is one of the most prominent and yet unnoticed aspects of how we react to the architectural spaces we occupy in our daily lives.
One of the goals of Springboard Design’s newsletters is to inspire thought, bridging the gap between the everyday and the world of design. We hope that after reading this newsletter, you will see the world a little differently, through ‘design-oriented’ eyes. Take a moment to see color, the paint on the walls of the rooms around you, a little differently. You might be surprised by how it makes you feel.
Many thanks to the students, faculty and administration of Winchester Thurston School for giving Springboard Design the opportunity to creatively use the resources of our community to engage in a larger conversation about architecture and culture. We are excited to continue exploring color’s impact on all of the projects that we design.