7 Architects Who Weren’t Afraid to Use Color

Some architects love color, some are unmoved by it, some hate it, and some love to dismiss it as too whimsical or non-serious for architecture. In an essay on the subject, Timothy Brittain-Catlin mentions the “innate puritanism among clients of architecture,” architects and their “embarrassment of confronting color,” and how “Modernism tried to ‘educate out’ bright colors.” So, while the debate on color in architecture is far from being a new one, it is not finished, and probably never will be.

In today’s world where the exhausted stereotype of the no-nonsense architect clad in black still persists, and while we quietly mull over the strange pull of the Cosmic Latte, there are some architects who haven’t been afraid of using broad swathes of color in their work at all. Read on for a list of 7 such exemplary architects both from the past and the present.

Antoni Gaudi (1852 – 1926)

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Casa Batlló. Image © Wikimedia user M.Stallbaum licensed under Public Domain

Best known as one of the leaders of Catalan Modernism and Art NouveauGaudi’s fantastical work is characterized as much by its use of traditional decorative arts like stained glass, ceramics, and wrought-iron forging as it is by its eccentric forms. Drawing from nature, mythology, and religion, the architect’s remarkable use of color is evident in the polychromatic tile, brick and stone-work in projects like the Casa VicensEl CaprichoCasa BatlloPark Guell and the Sagrada Familia, among countless other masterpieces.

Casa Vicens. Image © Pol Viladoms
Casa Vicens. Image © Pol Viladoms

Luis Barragán (1902 – 1988)

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Interior of Casa Gilardi. Image © Wikimedia user Ulises00 licensed under Public Domain

While Barragán’s work makes use of whole planes splashed with bright, contrasting colors, it is never uncomfortable to look at, even in the Mexican summer sun. Expanses of creamy pink and bright orange at right angles to each other, a sunny yellow corridor, rust-red running into earthy grey, a solid chunk of scarlet against fresh blue, a lilac wall behind a dusty green cactus – these are a few of the many sights to behold in Barragán’s projects through which he sought to capture his obsession with “serenity, silence, intimacy and amazement,” the region’s culture, and the surrounding landscape.

Casa Giraldi Luis Barragan
Fountain of Casa Gilardi. Image © Wikimedia user Ulises00 licensed under Public Domain
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Fuente de los Amantes. Image © Flickr user Esparta Palma licensed under CC BY 2.0

Michael Graves (1934 – 2015)

St. Coletta School / Michael Graves. Image Courtesy of Michael Graves
St. Coletta School / Michael Graves. Image Courtesy of Michael Graves

“I love Borromini and want to get some of the feeling of the richness of that architecture into my work, but if you have to paint it white and make it flat, what’s the point?” The American architect notorious for breaking away from the purist traditions upheld by the modernists used playful colors and bold forms in his postmodern works such as St. Coletta SchoolPortland Building, and the Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World.

Portland Building 1982
Portland Building, 1982. Image © Wikimedia user Steve Morgan licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Theo Van Doesburg (1883 – 1931)

Café l’Aubette. Image © Wikimedia user Claude Truong-Ngoc licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The self-taught artist and architect, and one the main proponents of De Stijl, Doesburg applied his ideas about color with full vigor in the spaces he designed in collaboration with other designers, such as the Café l’Aubette. The multiple surfaces and planes in actual space allowed him to play with shifts in tones, contrasting angles, horizontal and vertical elements, and geometry, all in bold primary colors that stood for pure abstraction and purity.

Peter Cook

Drawing Studio / CRAB studio. Image © Richard Bryant
Drawing Studio / CRAB studio. Image © Richard Bryant

“The Kunsthaus offers a rotund, laughing, winking face to the city of Graz. The straightforward entry is followed by a tantalizing element – the travelator that invites you into the unknown. The mystery deepens in the dark, magic space…” This is no Archigram project on paper, it’s a public art gallery in Austria designed and built by Peter Cook’s CRAB Studio. The architect wasn’t joking when he said that Archigram’s designs were always meant to be built: marked by the same wit, color palette and radical playfulness, Cook is not afraid to throw around splashes of color, which is not surprising at all, given his added disdain for the “piety of biscuit-beige.”

Departments Of Law And Central Administration / CRAB Studio. Image © Ronald Kreimel
Departments Of Law And Central Administration / CRAB Studio. Image © Ronald Kreimel
Abedian School of Architecture / CRAB Studio. Image © Peter Bennetts
Abedian School of Architecture / CRAB Studio. Image © Peter Bennetts

Richard Rogers

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Centre Georges Pompidou. Image © Flickr user Alfie Ianni licensed under CC BY 2.0

High-tech, functionalist, adaptable, and colorful – the work of Richard Rogers today still imbibes the same spirit as the building that launched his career: the Centre Georges Pompidou. At first glance, the museum seems like a giant, rectangular mass of colorful pipes and scaffolding, but a close study reveals meticulous color coding: blue for ventilation, green for plumbing and fire control piping, yellow and orange for electrical systems, red for elevators and shafts, and white for structure and largest ventilation components.

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Millennium Dome. Image © Flickr user James Jin licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Ricardo Bofill

La Muralla Roja. Image © Gregori Civera
La Muralla Roja. Image © Gregori Civera

The work of the Spanish architect, more specifically the numerous housing projects like the El Sargazo ApartmentsGaudi DistrictKafka CastleXanadú and La Muralla Roja, is often described as surrealistic or “Escheresque”. Bofill’s mastery over color in his labyrinthine, multi-leveled buildings takes the form of dramatic shades of fuchsia, scarlet, blue, pistachio, indigo, violet and orange applied in generous amounts, often setting up a striking contrast with the surrounding landscape.

Xanadú. Image © Ricardo Bofill
Xanadú. Image © Ricardo Bofill
La Muralla Roja. Image © Gregori Civera

Source: www.archdaily.com