Newsletter | May/Jun 1989

Paint Them Red and Yellow, Blue and Green

by Georgia Annwell
The thesis of my editorial is that contemporary architecture in general is much too colorless. As such it does not appeal to us aesthetically and does not meet human needs for emotional expressiveness. The environmentally concerned designer would do well to consider how the built environment might be more satisfying. A cursory study of the brain suggests that brightly hued surroundings contribute significantly to our emotional well-being.
Fibers of the optic nerve carry visual information to our primitive brain, the mid-brain and brain stem, which respond symbolically. This part of the brain does not have the capability of interpreting red as either a certain pigment or wave length of light. But it does associate red symbolically with blood and fire and matters of the heart. The primitive brain responds to the highly saturated chroma of vivid color and ascribes to it symbalic meaning. (It-does not notice pale, faded, tinted. or grayed hues.) Enclosing the hypothalamus, it enables us to experience and to give expression to emotion. Because of the wealth of neuronal connections, all our responses, whether conscious or not, have emotional aspects. The way we feel is very related, not only to what we are thinking, but also to how we interpret elements in our environment.
The higher brain or cerebrum reacts more to subdued color, shades, and tints. Verbal and mathematical abilities are attributed to its left hemisphere. Abstractions, spatial and textural relationships, are formed by the right. It is the right hemisphere that fits elements of space and distance, texture and tone, together into a pattern or system and contributes largely to our aesthetic response. The right side perceives those colors outside the range of the primary and pure. It responds to the more "cerebral", subtle or so-called "sophisticated" hues. Great art art simultaneously evokes both cerebral and emotional responsiveness.When the aesthetic experience has a strong emotional component, it is both therapeutic and cathartic, fulfilling and beautiful.

Environmental constructions can stimulate both cerebral and primitive functions. But most urban development lacks those features which satisfy the need for emotional expression. Gray achromatic cities exemplify a culture which values matters of the cerebrum, a culture which is dominated by the achromatic male type. Contemporary architects, by and large, show little concern for the emotional aspects of design. The eccentrics and exceptions are encouraged to suppress. Emotional expression is considered vulgar by those who must fear and control it. Architectural colors are usually those of the cerebrum.

Not only do our finished products fall to delight and satisfy in full, but so do our production drawings. Black and white perspectives and plans, sections and elevations, are traditional methods of communicating architectural ideation. Even small scale models are constructed in black and white, gray and beige.

Color is left out during both visualization and planning. A hole exists for the color consultant to enter later, provided, of course, that there is room in the budget. Otherwise muralists and latter-day graffiti artists might
improve on things and paint them red and yellow, blue and green.

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