This article was written 6 years ago.

Photography by Luke Hayes


Ever wondered why our cities are so grey? Design journalist Katie Treggiden explores the lack of colour in architecture and talks to the chromophiles pioneering brighter buildings.

The architectural ‘whitewash’ that started after World War Two was a response to the dirt and rubble of war as new materials enabled clean, hygienic spaces, but the seed of ‘truth to materials’ was planted by the arts and crafts movement and then embraced as a central tenet of Modernism. However, our suspicion of colour dates back centuries. ‘It goes back a long way, via Adolf Loos in the early 20th century and neo-classicism in the 19th century, and all the way back to Plato and Aristotle,’ says David Batchelor, author of Chromophobia. ‘There’s a long Western tradition that equates colour with falsity, seduction and dishonesty. Modern architects are just its latest incarnation.’ Batchelor’s book references an ‘aggressively white’ interior – in which there is ‘no possibility of lying’. And yet, as Bachelor points out, even white is a lie. ‘Le Corbusier fetishized white,’ he says. ‘And most of his buildings were painted’ So if the pioneer of ‘truth to materials’ was hiding them under white paint, and if even he said: ‘polychromy is as powerful an architectural tool as the plan and section’, perhaps it is time for architects to embrace colour.

Some of them already are. Maggie’s Centres are domestic buildings in the grounds of hospitals offering support to people with cancer. Designed by the UK’s best architects, they are often very colourful. ‘The green we chose for Maggie’s Nottingham was in deliberate contrast to the red brick of the existing hospital buildings, so it would be seen as spiritually separate.’ says Piers Gough of CZWG Architects LLP. Similarly, Ivan Harbour of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners chose a striking orange for Maggie’s West London. ‘We wanted to create an environment that felt warm, homely and welcoming,’ he says.


Contact Katie


Katie Treggiden is also the founder and director of Making Design Circular — an international membership community and online learning platform for environmentally conscious designers, makers, artists and craftspeople.
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