Colour at the Edge

It gives me great pleasure to be asked by Wendy Murray to be a guest blogger for The Velvet & Silk Cafe.  For my own readers, I hope you will find a little about my background and work of interest.

Although officially, a geographer (obviously attracted by the heavy use of coloured pencils) I have been working in the design industry for the last twenty years specifying contemporary brands of European furniture, lighting and modern art works for domestic and commercial spaces. I then began to specialise in restaurant interiors where I became increasingly interested in the use of colour as a design tool. This passion for colour led me to consult for Valtti paints where I designed colour palettes including ‘Fauvism 55’ which was awarded a Living etc Loves Award. I am currently working on a range of home wares and consulting on colour choice and placement in public spaces.

My work in colour simply relies upon the 10,000 hour rule, I do not have a colour qualification but I have probably read most books ever written on  colour theory (!) and I am in frequent discussions with members of the IACC (International Association of Colour Consultants) and Colour Group GB.

The place where two colours meet is my real passion. The perfect fusion of art and science exists at this point. Being able to alter a perceived colour by placing another colour next to it gives designers a very powerful and dynamic tool. I’m sure you know that placing two complimentary colours side by side strengthens their respective hues and allows them to be more luminous. In their fight for leadership the two colours ‘tout’ or strengthen their parent colours and retract any common hues resulting in a greater contrast.

The greatest energy or dynamism is found along the boundary where the colours touch – further away from this point the effect diminishes. However, if you wish the entire block of colour to have equal strength a simple ‘fence’ or boundary can be added around the colour block which prevents the colours sparring along the ‘front line’ and the heightened contrast will be spread evenly across the block.

red & green showing different strengths

Look at the energy where the colours touch compared to the outer edges. See how the 'fence' allows the energy to be equally spread.

There are far too many examples of colour physics to discuss in one post and there are plenty of examples on previous posts (including one on the effect of colour perception on ageing eyes which is relevant to Part M building regulations – although brand new research now questions this theory but its still too early in the research to change building regs).

In January this year I spent some time in Reykjavik and was astonished by the use of colour in the Harpa Concert Hall.

Harpa Concert Hall

As many members of The Silk and Velvet Cafe are architects I won’t begin to describe the building on its architectural merits although I do think Rowan Moore’s review of the building for the Guardian gives an excellent overview.

In a country full of colour contrasts, fire and ice, darkness followed by eternal day light and torn in half by the North American and Eurasian plates, I guess it is no surprise that Henning Larsen Architects and artist, Olafur Eliasson who designed Harpa have used dramatic colour combinations to full use.

I was stunned by the scale of the building and even more surprised to see the solid walls inside the building were black concrete. Considering the the lack of winter light, I did not expect the architects to choose black walls. Another surprise, is the white floor. Generally we humans feel more comfortable with ‘heavy’ colours below our feet, and ‘lighter’ colours above, (probably because that replicates nature). Entering this interior instantly made me feel very small and extremely aware of the building itself.

The insertion of bright yellow upholstery is a brilliant addition. Black which has a very low LRV (light reflective value) is the perfect back drop to clean bright yellow which has one of the highest LRV’s – the contrast allows the colours the greatest impact.

Image on left is untouched, image on right is inverted. The interior uses unorthodox colour placement to great effect.

The main concert hall, Eldborg or ‘Fire Castle’ takes inspiration from a volcanic crater in the East of Iceland. Red, well known to heighten ones emotions has affected some recent performers who claim their senses have been so sharpened they have been reduced to tears while on stage.

Photo by Ari Magg

The recital hall, Norourljos or ‘Northern Lights’ is shrouded in a vivid blue light to signify endless horizons and also to create a peaceful ambiance for smaller groups of performers.

Photo by Eypor Arnason

The Kaldalon or ‘Cold Lagoon’ has the ability to change colour depending on what event is being hosted. Inspired.

It is exciting to see bold colour choices and unusual colour placement  being used in such an important cultural building and a building which has become a symbol of Iceland’s new energy and optimism.

For me, it is the colour choice and placement that saved this over sized building from becoming an impersonal space. The building provokes powerful emotional and at times unexpected reactions which makes it an exciting and dynamic place to enter and a place that has firmly stuck in my mind.

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