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The Influence of Color in Architecture

The Mood Altering Effect (Part 1 of 2)

By Liiz Rahman

Depiction of color in architecture, a more recognized phenomenon today than ever before, can be viewed from two aspects.  The aesthetic side created through color and light on architectural design, and how the right color can change the entire mood of the specific ambiance of architecture.

Pablo Picasso said that colors, like features, follow the changes of emotions.  English scientist
Sir Isaac Newton found when pure white light passes through a prism, it separates into all separate colors.  Newton saw that each color is made up of a single wavelength, which cannot be separated further into other colors.  Further experiments showed that light could be combined to form other colors.  For example red light mixed with yellow light creates an orange color and some colors such as yellow and purple cancel each other out when mixed and result in a white light.  All colors have a meaningful bearing on onlookers.

While perception of color is somewhat subjective, there are some color effects that have a universal influence on people.  Colors in the red area of the color spectrum (red, pink, orange, yellow) are known as warm colors evoking emotions ranging from warmth and comfort to feelings of anger and hostility.  Colors on the blue side of the spectrum (blue, purple, green) are known as cool colors.  Cool colors are often described as calm, but can also call to mind feelings of sadness and indifference.

Around 1930 Dinshah P. Ghadiali, a Hindu scientist, discovered the scientific principles which explain why and how the different colored rays have various therapeutic effects on
organisms.  Chromotherapy, sometimes called color therapy, colorology, or cromatherapy, is a form of alternative medicine that uses color and light to heal.  This healing method was practiced in several ancient cultures including the Egyptians and Chinese and is still practiced today.

Despite numerous controversies, researchers and healers continued to demonstrate that the mood altering effect of color is evident.  This is widely practiced by architects and is seen in their designs from the ancient period to today.

Up until recently color was the most neglected aspect in architectural design which concentrated more on spatial dimensions and technical aspects of design schematics.  Color theory maintains and reinforces spatial relations with the effective use of contrasting color and light.  The scale of a drawing is difficult to recognize if it is one uniform color.  Color theory integrates certain pigments to convey a building dimensions and proportions.

Color therapy in architecture defines the character of a structure, as agreed widely by architects today.  It is also agreed that in many cases colors expressed the character of the materials in the building.  If a building has a red tile roof, gray stone walls, and brown wood trim, the essential character of each material is clearly stated. If these have the same color, the building looks like a clay model. 1

1 From the book Architecture and Color, Waldron Faulkner, F.A.I.A. (John Wiley & Sons Inc 1972)