Color inspiration can be drawn from something as inconsequential as a pebble to something as forceful as a mountain range. A color palette for an architectural project can include many layers – building materials, floor coverings, furniture, lighting, window treatments, hardware and accessories. But the question remains: Are color decisions made by architects at the onset of a project when choosing these elements?
I've asked some fellow architects to tell me about a project where color, or its absence, played a significant role.
Alexander Stoltz, a founding partner of Vaidya Stoltz Architects in Brooklyn, N.Y., says, "Color is always an important part of any design process, but it's important to be judicious – sometimes subtly and other times boldly."
For the house in the Hamptons that he designed for his mother, a successful artist, the art studio – not surprisingly – is the heart of the house. To draw attention to it, he applied a bold yellow to the barn door leading to the studio. It's a simple feature, yet one that stands out, given the door can be seen from any part of the house and even through the partially enclosed stairwell that intersects the two floors. In the rest of the house, which is very light and airy, he used a neutral palette to showcase his mother's colorful artwork.
Kathleen Lechleiter, owner of k.lechleiter ARCHITECT in Baltimore, Md., is currently working on a project with the city involving facade improvements in three neighborhoods. Lechleiter believes an historical color palette will be the "means to create a cohesive streetscape." The primary goal of the project is to revitalize these neighborhoods to assist Baltimore's small businesses and boost its economy. Since the design team was unable to unearth the original colors, they're planning to study the dates of the structures and facades to determine the design period and then select colors common in that era. It's a challenging case of discovering historical color "trends." I'll be interested to see what the team comes up with.
When the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Calif., was being built, Jon McNeal was the local project architect for the firm doing the work: Renzo Piano Building Workshop. The handful of times I visited, I felt the design intent, paired with the color palette, provided a cohesive and consistent element to the academy's identity. The spaces are vibrant and dynamic, and the choice of accent color enhances this energy. McNeal says the neutral palette of the exhibition areas was intentional so that the exhibits themselves would provide the color and draw the attention of attendees.
What role does color play in your design process – is it integral or an afterthought?
"Color was used on the base building only as a means to assist with way-finding and orientation – vertical circulation, interior bridges and the light fixtures on the central axis of the building were painted a red-orange color as a means to create some visual life where exhibits were not going to be installed," he says.