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Colour Psychology and 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.


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

Herstal City Hall / Frederic Haesevoets Architecte. Image © Christophe Vootz

OpyCo / YBYPY. Image © Pedro Vannucci

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.


Riverview Park Visitor Service Building I / De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop. Image Courtesy of De Leon and Primmer Architecture Workshop

Missouri State University – Level 1 Game Center / Dake | Wells Architecture. Image © Architectural Imageworks

Childrens Museum of the Arts / WORKac. Image © Ari Marcopoulos

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.


The Tetrisception / Renesa Architecture Design Interiors Studio. Image © Vibhor Yadav
The Gym Of Accessory Store / 45tilt. Image © Hey! Cheese

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.

I AM Recycled / PKMN Architectures. Image Courtesy of PKMN Architectures
Family Box Qingdao / Crossboundaries. Image © Xia Zhi

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.

Wehrhahn-Line Düsseldorf / netzwerkarchitekten. Image © Jorg Hempel
Channel 7 BBTV / Apostrophy's + Airbase Architects. Image © Ketsiree Wongwan

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.


Ziggo Dome / Benthem Crouwel Architects. Image © Jannes Linders
Hotel Encanto Acapulco / Miguel Angel Aragonés. Image © MAA

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.


White Digger / Tomas Ghisellini Architects. Image © Tomas Ghisellini

The Polite House / JVA. Image © Lars Evanger

Colour in architecture - is too much colour possible?

Everybody asks himself this question – whether it's clothing, hair or the colour scheme in a room. Colours affect our lives, convey energy and have character. The natural and harmonious colours of the Architectural Polychromy create moods. The colours chosen by Le Corbusier are harmonious in themselves and can be combined impressively in all variants and forms. What is essential, especially in architecture, since colours rarely appear on their own. Therefore, colours and their combination possibilities are essential – especially for a colour concept for interior design and also the choice of colours in architecture. “Colour depends on context, space, quality, density, intensity, quantity, combination and light. So what is ‘a lot of colour’? A small, intense spot in a room can be perceived as a lot of colour,” say Nora Fata and Catherine Burkhard. In their opinion, all surfaces such as walls, ceilings and floors can appear in different but finely tuned shades and yet be perceived as not “much colour”. On the other hand, if the combinations are in an insensitive imbalance, colour is perceived as disturbing.