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How Color Affects Architecture

How Color Affects Architecture

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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.

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.

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

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Childrens Museum of the Arts / WORKac. Image © Ari Marcopoulos
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Missouri State University – Level 1 Game Center / Dake | Wells Architecture. Image © Architectural Imageworks
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Lille Métropole Commercial Court / PetitDidier Prioux Architectes. Image © 11H45
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McAllen Main Library / MSR Design. Image © Lara Swimmer
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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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Objective Subject Offices / GRT Architects. Image © Nicole Franzen
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Mr Sun Sushi Bar / Atelier Branco Arquitetura. Image © Pedro Kok
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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.

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Metal Rainbow-Zhongshu Bookstore in Suzhou / Wutopia Lab. Image © Yijie Hu
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Design Wing / Coordination Asia. Image © Coordination Asia
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Microsoft Suzhou Technology Center / PDM International. Image Courtesy of PDM International
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Your Rainbow Panorama / Studio Olafur Eliasson. Image © Studio Olafur Eliasson

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 19, 2019.

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Cite: Lilly Cao. "How Color Affects Architecture" 12 Jan 2022. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/930266/how-color-affects-architecture> ISSN 0719-8884
Le Soufflet / NatureHumaine. Image © Adrien Williams

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