Architecture and Color, Once Again

Paleo Retiree writes:

Blowhard, Esq.’s recent posting about architecture and color prompted me to pull out the iPhone a lot during my daily walks around downtown NYC. For the sake of this posting, please ignore the dramatic differences in shapes, designs, depth and materials in these collages. Let’s focus only on the question of color.

Trad buildings:


That’s quite a range, and quite a bouquet, of colors: olive, gold, raspberry, copper, oxblood, mint …

Now, a collage of very recent buildings:


I’m hard put to discern any colors at all in that collection of snaps. If it weren’t for the blue-green of certain kinds of glass and the blue of the sky, the collage wouldn’t lose a thing by being reproduced in black and white.

Happy to admit that this isn’t a completely fair comparison. I certainly ran across a few newer buildings that featured touches or color, and the number of older buildings that are ivory, tan or gray isn’t insignificant. Oddly, it’s rare that one runs across black in traditional buildings. The one genre of trad building/space that is reliably black is this:

Irish bars. It’s a convention that I don’t understand. Does anyone know where it comes from? And what is it about the Irish and black generally? They like their black leather jackets too. I’ve always assumed it has to do with the weather — the gray skies, the damp and the chill, the peat and the coal. But what do I know?

Anyhoo: while I was certainly trying to play up the contrast between trad architecture and contempo buildings, I think the comparison is totally fair as a general rule. When your eyes are open to the question of the color of the buildings around you, it’s incredibly striking how warm and various trad buildings are and how monochromatic and neutral contempo buildings are. If anyone should be tempted to point out that, while many of the trad buildings I’ve shown have coats of paint on them, most of the contempo buildings are of glass and metal — well, sure. But doesn’t that help make the point that trad buildings give us the freedom to do as we please with ’em (including applying colors of our choice) while contempo architects and developers are forever locking us into rigid, top-down, cold concepts?

Color, as anyone who has taken Painting or Design 101 knows, means vibration and festiveness. It means life. Why do our current masters want to starve us of all that? And what kind of desolate, if chic, cemetaries are they trying to turn our cities into?


About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
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6 Responses to Architecture and Color, Once Again

  1. agnostic says:

    Contra the Modernist credo about their buildings being “machines for living in,” they treat them as sculptures for the architect to toy around with, and spectators to gawk at, as though the site were an open-air sculpture gallery.

    Since the standard practice in sculpture is to not paint the mass, but render it in neutral monochrome, the architects do the same for their buildings.

    Color is not purely ornamental, though, to tie this back to what I said before about trad buildings having different segments for different functions, and Modernist ones looking like undifferentiated slabs. Color helps to separate the various segments in a trad building — the facade is one color, the roof another, the windows another, and the entrance another still. It gives them the look and feel of distinct organs within the whole organism.

    With the Modernist ones, there’s very little color-coding by segment — and not only because there are so few segments to begin with (no roof, entrance looks the same as a window, only bigger, etc.). They generally don’t try to contrast the color of the ubiquitous windows with the color of the exoskeleton grid around them, or with supporting columns below. Props to some of those buildings, though, for at least employing a dark-light contrast.

    The nearly undifferentiated color of the Modernist ones heighten how fake they look, not trying to hide the fact that the architect treated it as a great big piece of sculpture. The color-coding by segment makes the trad ones look more natural and organic as habitats — one color for the tree’s trunk and limbs, another for the foliage, perhaps another for its fruit, another for its flowers, and so on.


  2. weak stream says:

    Wrong again Agnostic. European modernists are not the least bit averse to using brilliant color on buildings. You need to get out more. As far as sculpture is concerned, ditto.


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