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How Color Affects Architecture

How Color Affects Architecture

Just as the colors of an abstract painting or photograph can produce a certain mood, so can the colors of a building or room profoundly influence how the people using it feel. Physiologically, study after study has shown that blue light slows the production of melatonin, keeping people more alert or awake even at night. Psychologically, people associate certain colors with certain feelings due to cultural symbols and lived experiences – for example, they might perceive the color red as menacing or frightening because of its connection to blood.

Altogether, the way a room is colored can have complex effects on how its users feel, while a façade can be perceived in dramatically different ways depending on how it is colored. Below, we summarize the emotional associations of every color, assessing their differing effects as each is used in architectural space.

Design Wing / Coordination Asia. Image © Coordination Asia Hotel Encanto Acapulco / Miguel Angel Aragonés. Image © MAA Family Box Qingdao / Crossboundaries. Image © Xia Zhi Le Soufflet / NatureHumaine. Image © Adrien Williams + 52

Red

Red can connote passion, excitement, or warmth depending on its precise hue, but it can also be associated with fear or danger. The way the color is used and how the space is laid out can determine how exactly it is perceived. Darker, maroon hues may read as sultry and enticing, while bright, neon reds are friendly and eye-catching. All-encompassing red, if done poorly, may feel overbearing, but if done effectively can create a unique ambient experience. Touches of red in otherwise more neutrally colored spaces can also be a highly effective method of drawing people’s attention to specific objects or elements.

Innovation Lab / AIM Architecture. Image © Dirk Weiblen
Innovation Lab / AIM Architecture. Image © Dirk Weiblen
Herstal City Hall / Frederic Haesevoets Architecte. Image © Christophe Vootz
Herstal City Hall / Frederic Haesevoets Architecte. Image © Christophe Vootz
HILTI headquarters / metroquadrado®. Image © Bernardo Portugal
HILTI headquarters / metroquadrado®. Image © Bernardo Portugal
OpyCo / YBYPY. Image © Pedro Vannucci
OpyCo / YBYPY. Image © Pedro Vannucci
D-Edge / Muti Randolph + Marcelo Pontes + Zemel + Chalabi Arquitetos. Image © Maira Acayaba
D-Edge / Muti Randolph + Marcelo Pontes + Zemel + Chalabi Arquitetos. Image © Maira Acayaba
Zen Sushi Restaurant / Carlo Berarducci Architecture. Image © Fernando Guerra
Zen Sushi Restaurant / Carlo Berarducci Architecture. Image © Fernando Guerra
Apos2 / Apostrophy’s. Image © Ketsiree Wongwan
Apos2 / Apostrophy’s. Image © Ketsiree Wongwan

Orange

Though unusual, architectural uses of the color orange can create soothing, luminous, friendly spaces. Less ostentatious than red, orange spaces are calmer but still bright and jovial. Because it is less aggressive, it is also less risky for use in abundance.

Le Soufflet / NatureHumaine. Image © Adrien Williams
Le Soufflet / NatureHumaine. Image © Adrien Williams
Missouri State University – Level 1 Game Center / Dake | Wells Architecture. Image © Architectural Imageworks
Missouri State University – Level 1 Game Center / Dake | Wells Architecture. Image © Architectural Imageworks
Lille Métropole Commercial Court / PetitDidier Prioux Architectes. Image © 11H45
Lille Métropole Commercial Court / PetitDidier Prioux Architectes. Image © 11H45
McAllen Main Library / MSR Design. Image © Lara Swimmer
McAllen Main Library / MSR Design. Image © Lara Swimmer
Riverview Park Visitor Service Building I / De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop. Image Courtesy of De Leon and Primmer Architecture Workshop
Riverview Park Visitor Service Building I / De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop. Image Courtesy of De Leon and Primmer Architecture Workshop

Yellow

Yellow is consistently radiant and cheerful, and can be used both all over a space and to highlight specific elements in a way that does not overwhelm as much as red. Due to its friendly and quirky associations, it is used commonly in children’s spaces such as daycares and kindergartens, and due to its radiance is conducive to making any grey or somber space seem instantly livelier. Paler or more orange hues of yellow may appear calmer.

Unite Here Health LA Office / Lehrer Architects. Image Courtesy of Lehrer Architects
Unite Here Health LA Office / Lehrer Architects. Image Courtesy of Lehrer Architects
The Tetrisception / Renesa Architecture Design Interiors Studio. Image © Vibhor Yadav
The Tetrisception / Renesa Architecture Design Interiors Studio. Image © Vibhor Yadav
Fai-Fah / SPARCH. Image © TMB Bank
Fai-Fah / SPARCH. Image © TMB Bank
Duplex Tibbaut / Raúl Sánchez. Image © José Hevia
Duplex Tibbaut / Raúl Sánchez. Image © José Hevia
Sjötorget Kindergarten / Rotstein Arkitekter. Image Courtesy of Rotstein Architecture
Sjötorget Kindergarten / Rotstein Arkitekter. Image Courtesy of Rotstein Architecture
The Gym Of Accessory Store / 45tilt. Image © Hey! Cheese
The Gym Of Accessory Store / 45tilt. Image © Hey! Cheese
Lock & Be Free / Wanna One. Image © CaulinPhoto
Lock & Be Free / Wanna One. Image © CaulinPhoto

Green

Another unusual color for architecture, green – particularly emerald green or pastel green – is highly soothing and relaxing. Even neon green, however bright, generally appears calmer than other neon colors. However, yellow-green, if used poorly, may feel strangely clinical, particularly in juxtaposition with white. Externally, green walls and green roofs both suggest sustainability and connote friendly warmth.

Espai Caixa / MIRAG. Image © Jordi Surroca
Espai Caixa / MIRAG. Image © Jordi Surroca
I AM Recycled / PKMN Architectures. Image Courtesy of PKMN Architectures
I AM Recycled / PKMN Architectures. Image Courtesy of PKMN Architectures
Yandex Saint Petersburg Office / za bor architects. Image © Peter Zaytsev
Yandex Saint Petersburg Office / za bor architects. Image © Peter Zaytsev
Antas Educative Center / AVA Architects. Image © Jose Campos
Antas Educative Center / AVA Architects. Image © Jose Campos
Family Box Qingdao / Crossboundaries. Image © Xia Zhi
Family Box Qingdao / Crossboundaries. Image © Xia Zhi
House in the Mountains / Gluck+. Image © Steve Mundinger
House in the Mountains / Gluck+. Image © Steve Mundinger

Blue

Blue is cool, soothing, dignified, and secure. On ceilings, it connotes the celestial, while individual blue elements such as columns or furniture are among the most common uses of a primary color in architecture. Blue light installations are also among the most effective in outdoor spaces.

High Trestle Trail Bridge / RDG Planning & Design. Image © Iris22 Productions
High Trestle Trail Bridge / RDG Planning & Design. Image © Iris22 Productions
Channel 7 BBTV / Apostrophy's + Airbase Architects. Image © Ketsiree Wongwan
Channel 7 BBTV / Apostrophy's + Airbase Architects. Image © Ketsiree Wongwan
Melanchthon College Schiebroek / OIII Architecten. Image © Rob t' Hart
Melanchthon College Schiebroek / OIII Architecten. Image © Rob t' Hart
Wehrhahn-Line Düsseldorf / netzwerkarchitekten. Image © Jorg Hempel
Wehrhahn-Line Düsseldorf / netzwerkarchitekten. Image © Jorg Hempel

Purple

Purple, like blue, can be soft and relaxing, but to an even greater extent – particularly pastel purple in diffused light settings. Neon purple, particularly neon purple lights, are fun, bright, and exciting, and can make a lasting impression due to their uniqueness.

Mathematics: The Winton Gallery / Zaha Hadid Architects. Image © Luke Hayes
Mathematics: The Winton Gallery / Zaha Hadid Architects. Image © Luke Hayes
Hotel Encanto Acapulco / Miguel Angel Aragonés. Image © MAA
Hotel Encanto Acapulco / Miguel Angel Aragonés. Image © MAA
OMNOMNOM Vegan Cafe / replus design bureau. Image © Dmytro Sorokyevych
OMNOMNOM Vegan Cafe / replus design bureau. Image © Dmytro Sorokyevych
Ziggo Dome / Benthem Crouwel Architects. Image © Jannes Linders
Ziggo Dome / Benthem Crouwel Architects. Image © Jannes Linders
The Year / Estudio Guto Requena. Image © Fran Parente
The Year / Estudio Guto Requena. Image © Fran Parente
Orange Fitness Gym / KMT Project Department. Image © Ravil Safiullin
Orange Fitness Gym / KMT Project Department. Image © Ravil Safiullin

White

White walls are among the most common features of modern architecture for their connotations of purity and cleanliness. On exterior walls, they are conducive to dramatic shadows and flat, pristine facades, while interior white walls can make users feel calm but alert. White ceilings and walls also help diffuse light, making interior spaces seem brighter.

House-T / Tsukano Architect Office. Image © Kenichi Asano
House-T / Tsukano Architect Office. Image © Kenichi Asano
The Polite House / JVA. Image © Lars Evanger
The Polite House / JVA. Image © Lars Evanger
Oasis - Pastoral Care Voestalpine / x architekten. Image © David Schreyer
Oasis - Pastoral Care Voestalpine / x architekten. Image © David Schreyer
Munich Fractal Arena / Dear design. Image © Xavier Manosa
Munich Fractal Arena / Dear design. Image © Xavier Manosa
V House / COTAPAREDES Arquitectos. Image © Cesar Bejar
V House / COTAPAREDES Arquitectos. Image © Cesar Bejar
One Ocean, Thematic Pavilion EXPO 2012 / soma. Image © SOMA
One Ocean, Thematic Pavilion EXPO 2012 / soma. Image © SOMA
White Digger / Tomas Ghisellini Architects. Image © Tomas Ghisellini
White Digger / Tomas Ghisellini Architects. Image © Tomas Ghisellini

Black

Black buildings tend to appear cool and contemplative, though they may be perceived as ominous in certain situations as well. Thoughtful lighting within black interiors and on black exteriors can make rooms and facades feel less dark and oppressive. While black wooden architecture may appear rustic and introverted, black metal detailing often feels sleek and modern.

Objective Subject Offices / GRT Architects. Image © Nicole Franzen
Objective Subject Offices / GRT Architects. Image © Nicole Franzen
Mr Sun Sushi Bar / Atelier Branco Arquitetura. Image © Pedro Kok
Mr Sun Sushi Bar / Atelier Branco Arquitetura. Image © Pedro Kok
Yuwan Restaurant / Nota Design Architects + Engineers. Image © Jian Long
Yuwan Restaurant / Nota Design Architects + Engineers. Image © Jian Long

Evidently, color has enormous emotive power in both architectural interiors and exteriors. However, when designing with color, even something as simple or common as black and white, due consideration to lighting, material, and design is imperative as well. With each color often connoting a whole host of different emotions from the happiest to the most ominous, only cohesive and holistic design can ensure that color use generates the intended effect.

Metal Rainbow-Zhongshu Bookstore in Suzhou / Wutopia Lab. Image © Yijie Hu
Metal Rainbow-Zhongshu Bookstore in Suzhou / Wutopia Lab. Image © Yijie Hu
Design Wing / Coordination Asia. Image © Coordination Asia
Design Wing / Coordination Asia. Image © Coordination Asia
Microsoft Suzhou Technology Center / PDM International. Image Courtesy of PDM International
Microsoft Suzhou Technology Center / PDM International. Image Courtesy of PDM International
Your Rainbow Panorama / Studio Olafur Eliasson. Image Courtesy of Studio Olafur Eliasson
Your Rainbow Panorama / Studio Olafur Eliasson. Image Courtesy of Studio Olafur Eliasson
About this author
Cite: Lilly Cao. "How Color Affects Architecture" 19 Dec 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/930266/how-color-affects-architecture/> ISSN 0719-8884
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Childrens Museum of the Arts / WORKac. Image © Ari Marcopoulos

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