The Transition of Colourless to Colourful Architecture

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‘The chromatic city’

The transition of colourless to colourful architecture



List of Illustrations Page 3

Introduction Page 4

Chapter 1 Page 5

Chapter 2 Page 6

Chapter 3 Page 7

Chapter 4 Page 8

Conclusion Page 9

Bibliography Page 10

List of Illustrations

Title Page. Figure 1, Lenclos, Jean-Philippe (1960) Les couleurs de la France [online image] [Accessed 12/10/14]


The use of colour in architecture is a concern that many architects and designers have struggled to accept, as the issue is encumbered with moral and conceptual connotations. Does one restrict themselves to the true nature of building materials or is a wider colour palette introduced? There are many factors that have to be taken into consideration when implementing colour into buildings as it has to be met by several different demands both concerning human experience as well as practicality concerns.

Although one may give colour great thought, it has never been valued as a concrete element in architectural projects, always remaining a subordinate. The introduction of materials such as steel and glass into the construction of building, further hindered the acceptance of colour and gained a high profile for its clarity of design and was styled as the ‘colourless’ architecture. Le Corbusier believed that the formal, constructive quality of architectural surfaces hindered colour becoming a focal point and that colour is a component that is only appreciated in paintings.

These notions have all been challenged with the implementation of colour being familiarised with the urban planning of cities. The idea of executing colour into an entire city may be slightly daring and provocative but when careful planning has been taken it can create a powerful social, economic force. Chapter 1 discusses the different ways colourists and architects have approached colour planning in relation to the materiality of the city.

Burano, the Venetian lagoon, is well known for its brightly coloured houses that occupy the whole city. This is an example that will be introduced in Chapter 2, in consideration to how colour was approached and further accepted by the government. Colour can be seen as a tool which is used to emphasise structural elements of a building in regards to the framing of windows and balconies separating them from the body of the building. This is evident in the city of Burano, as colour is reflected in different aspects of building creating a visual masterpiece in the simplest of forms.

Chapter 3 makes a comparison of the endless colour palette of Burano, to the cities of Jodhpur and Jaipur in India, famously known as the ‘Red City’ and the ‘Blue City’ which implement one colour for the entire city. How can one city all be reflected in the same hue? Does this take away from the beauty and structure of individual buildings? These questions will be discussed in further detail in regards to the symbolic representation of colour, rather than just the aesthetic appeal which is more relevant to the colour scheme of Burano.

The introduction of colour in urban planning is becoming more evident as architects are appreciating and accepting colour as they are becoming more familiarised with the success of doing so. In order to fully respond to this essay title, archival research will be of support along with comparative analysis of buildings, both contemporary and historically.

Chapter 1

“Colour is the lipstick of the city, makeup used to make the city prettier.” (Urbanisms of Colour, page 3)

When taking into account the use of colour within urban planning, it is important to consider the occupants that inhabit the city as the colour interaction takes on an additional meaning on aspects such as volume, mass and scale, mood and atmosphere; journey and narrative; which all has importance for the occupants of the spaces.

Colour interaction in three-dimensional spaces such as buildings and interiors, we see and balance objects and their colours against one another and their backgrounds.

Jean – Phillipe Lenclos of France – collected regional samples of natural earth and clays and developed palettes based on them for use in mass housing. He has also incorporated the colours of the sky, water and vegetation. When the colours of his palette (drawn from a specific region) are applied in paint finished and other building materials, the final result looks appropriate and harmonious.

Architectural colour maps – which certain colours become identified with particular regions.

Natural materials and shades can be as beautiful as intense synthetic colours or even shiny ones.

Colour creates an atmosphere. A bright colour scheme for a building tends to express gaiety and excitement. It suggests either unity or diversity. A uniform colour scheme contributes a sense of unity, while a varied colour scheme gives a feeling of diversity.

We encounter and are surrounded by colour whenever we open our eyes. It accompanies us in diverse visual ways and is always connected with and influenced by light in the natural or human designed environment. In nature, we see colour in the light of the sky, when looking at water and landscapes. We see it in trees, stones, plants, fruits and flowers. The human designed environment is all in colour: streets and shops, building and spaces.

Natural colour includes two aspects: dynamic and static; dynamic colours mean all elements that are viable during different parts of time such as seasonal colours; and static colours mean the elements such as the land (including dirt roads), rocks, vegetation, water which they have relatively stable colours.

For humanity, colours of nature are always easy to accept, and the most beautiful. Therefore, the urban colourscape planning should try to protect the outstanding natural colour especially the natural colour of trees, grasslands, rivers rather than fighting against natural colour. We should try to treat the existing natural colour as the urban background, constitute an urban background, and have the cultural colours follow the natural colours; that is a shortcut to make the urban colourscape harmonious.

Artificial colour mainly refers to the colour of urban buildings, structures, roads, street furniture, advertising, transport and so on. In the composition of the urban artificial colour, the colour can also be divided into fixed colour and mobile colour, permanent colour and temporary colour. Various urban permanent buildings, structures, transportation facilities, streets, squares, urban sculptures make up the fixed permanent colour; urban transport vehicles, pedestrians’ clothing constitute the mobile colour; urban advertisements, logo signs, kiosks, street lamps, neon lights and windows, make up temporary colour.

In some cases, a colour palette is so strong and has been used an recognised over such a longer period of that it becomes traditional and an important part of the culture. In such instances, colour becomes strongly symbolic. Towns, regions and even countries throughout history have developed a strong traditional use of colour. ‘Colour of a city is an aspect of its history’

Most of the traditional cities, before industrial revolution, used to apply materials indigenous to their regions. Architectural styles evolved within the limitations of available materials and this disciplines the form as well as the colour of the buildings. As a result, the constant use of local materials and not having access to artificial colours produced urban settings with visual harmony.

Some cases to point out are an old city of Fes, Morocco, which recognised by the range of brownish colour. Jodhpur, India which is characterised by blue, and Abyaneh, Kashan, Iran in which the dominant colour is red.

The scale of the street or square, where colour can create various characteristics or moods depending on adjacent buildings and at street corners or on diametrically opposed façades. The two most common urban spaces are the street and square. The colour scheme of the street or square may have a considerable effect upon its character and appearance. It can contribute to the unity of the street or square, or it may destroy that unity. In addition, the colours used in the street have in themselves the ability to create character and mood.

Taking the street for example, it is possible to emphasize the wall planes of the street by painting them a light tone. Alternatively the volume of the street can be emphasized by colouring the façades the same tone as the dark pavement, or the length of the street could be emphasized by horizontal strips along the façades. The street can also be broken down into units with vertical bands of colouring.


The buildings of Burano may be less sophisticated than the better known main island of Venice, but the sense of joy created by its little houses overlooking boats passing slowly by along the canals makes an enchanting atmosphere.

Each house in Burano is unique, painted in vibrant colours. The small, rectilinear buildings encapsulate centuries and layers of history and traditions.

Fisherman prepare their craft, children play in the backstreets while lives of washing float in the breeze overhead and old men gather to pass the time of day. Community life seems endless.

The town’s simple architectural shapes and forms stir the heart and imagination, some gleam in the sun and others are half in shadow.

The buildings of Burano may be less sophisticated than the better-known main island of Venice seven kilometres away across the lagoon, but the sense of joy created by its little houses overlooking boats passing slowly by along the canals make an enchanting atmosphere.

Different reasons for the use of vibrant paint colours include enabling fisherman to identify their homes in the fog or to act as a street address legend as Burano does not use house numbers.

Burano takes their colour scheme so seriously that anyone that wants to give their home a new paint job must get the shade government approved. In order to protect colour traditions, certain cities, such as Venice, exercise legislative control. Its citizens are restrained from painting facades in anything but the prescribed range of earth pigments comprising ochre, umber, sienna, and red. There is a law prohibiting any modification of the original urban fabric or new construction.

Burano has a typical group of cottages, mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Each fisherman has a specific place in the can to dock his boa t – the mooring posts are painted in the boats colours.

All shutters are painted a deep green and door & window frames are painted white, but the facades exhibit a range of colours.

Red, yellow, ochre, blue, green diversify the simple and stereotyped volumes of the houses, giving them great expressive force.

Colour, the external sign of owning the house, enables the individualisation of each family and its spatial delimitation in the camps.

The experience of urban space is governed by the interplay between space, light and colours.

It is a small scale counterpart of Venice, a village version of a Lagoon capital.

Most houses are inhabited by its owners; this fact fosters in the inhabitants a strong feeling of identification on with the island.

The urban fabric is an outstanding example of Venetian urbanisation.

The use of stone is confined solely to a door and window surround (often head and sill only), and occasional store gutters on corbels.

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Burano was a substantial and populous island by the mid sixteenth century, but we can only deduce its importance in early period.

Other islands, with the exception of t Mazzorbo and Burano, were already on the path to decline and eventually abandonment, although the remaining three (Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello) formed a fairly compact administrative unit.

A document of 1342 records the decision to divide the administrative costs of the three communities into 5 equal parts, 2 to Torcello, 2 to Mazzorbo and 1 to Burano. Clearly at this date, it was still considered the least important of the three.

Early in the 15th century, a ducal letter in 1419 by Tommaso Mocenigo confirms these ratios with some variation; 120 lire was allocated annually for repairs and maintenance and Torcello was allocated 60 lire, Mazzorbo 40 and Burano only 20. This was an indication that Torcello despite its commercial decline was still considered at S.Marco to be the most important of the three.

By the second half of the 16th century, the history of Burano finally emerges from its medieval obscurity. Burano now contained several hundred houses, but it was a remarkably homogeneous community, almost exclusively consisting of poor fisherman.

A document of 1497 record that a government commission of inquiry had decided to use Burano as its base instead of Torcello. Since the nominal capital of the islands now had only a few hundred inhabitants; several times less than Burano.

The houses on Burano had no architectural pretensions whatsoever, and are the simplest form of brick box, with a tiled roof and prominent chimney, that we can find in every lagoon community from Chioggia to Iesolo and beyond.

Burano is a very important example of a surviving traditional lagunar community. It is the only one of all of the formerly numerous settlements in the northern lagoon to remain today as a populous and reasonably thriving village, long after most of its neighbours have disappeared – firstly Ammiana, Constanziaca, S.Christina and later Torcello and Mazzorbo, which today only survive as hamlets, entirely dependent on Burano and Venice for their survival at all.

Physically, Burano is a cluster village; a small tightly knit group of islets divided by narrow canals, but joined by small bridges.

Burano’s architecture is characterised by a bright polychromy, a dense structure, modest dimensions, and a simple aspect.

Paintings provide a visual laboratory for learning about colour relations and their effects.

Light quality is totally decisive to the experience of both colour and space. With the absence of light, one can experience neither space nor colours.