Beyond Aesthetics: The Functional Role of Color in Architecture

News—————10 May 2024

The use of color in architecture is not only about aesthetics but also function. The right choice and coordination of colors can significantly enhance a building’s appeal and beauty, making it more engaging for occupants and observers. Color can serve a program, such as providing identity, guiding users via wayfinding, and/or enhancing learning in educational environments.

The Psychology of Color

Distinct colors in spaces can evoke emotional responses, behaviors, and perceptions. Warm colors in the red, orange, and yellow range elicit feelings of warmth, energy, and excitement. These hues create a sense of urgency or passion and can stimulate appetite. Cool colors like blue, green, and purple are associated with calmness. These shades promote concentration, contemplation, and introspection. Being intentional with the use of color within a space creates an environment that fuels the success and well-being of users.

Studio 27 Architecture prides itself on intentional designs that exceed our client’s expectations. Color can help create a focused student study environment, integrate identity throughout an entire school building, or bring whimsy to a neighborhood through a bright exterior stair.

Expression of Identity and Culture

Mundo Verde School

Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School educates young people to become global stewards in an increasingly complex world. Their new campus is composed of two buildings: a renovated 40,000-square-foot former public school building and a new 10,000-square-foot annex. The massing and materiality of the annex is a response to the surrounding city fabric. The annex sits at the northeast corner of the site, reinforcing an urban edge while protecting a courtyard for Pre-K students to play. The dark exterior façade defers to the historic school, while a few unexpected pops of bright color enliven the massing. The bold colors draw from the school’s Latin American culture.

The Aya

The Aya is an affordable short-term family housing project that provides a safe environment for women and children to access services and assistance to exit homelessness. Using color at the Aya creates a sense of identity for its users. Each floor features a different organizing color to foster a sense of community and ease of orientation. The accent colors are used in the exterior play areas, throughout flooring designs, and in signage.

Wayfinding and Orientation

Washington Liberty High School Annex

This comprehensive renovation for Arlington Public Schools converted an existing 55,000-square-foot municipal building into a state-of-the-art high school annex. The project expands the capacity of the current Washington Liberty High School on the same campus. The ceilings are paneled and painted white and blue to simulate a clear, puffy cloud sky. A new communicating stair is painted in the same blue and appears to spiral in suspension with concealed structural support.

APS Syphax Education Center

Color can be an effective tool to help navigate a building. At the headquarters of Arlington Public School, the deep floor plate of the existing office building made wayfinding very challenging. By painting the walls dark gray at the core of the building, Studio 27 could define a consistent volume that anchors a user’s location while colorful office pods – one color per floor – provide a unique sense of place. This consistent use of color breaks down a large building into a logical set of simple volumes for new visitors to navigate.

Spatial Perception and Learning Tool

KIPPDC MC Terrell Campus

In December 2018, KIPPDC was approved to become the new operator of the 400-student high school located within MC Terrell Elementary School. The existing school building had previously been configured to serve only high school-aged students. KIPPDC needed to add an addition to the building to serve their early childhood education center. The new early childhood space uses a relaxed and inviting blue tone in the main lobby to welcome young students. A single accent color was utilized to provide a youthful feel while not overwhelming new learners. The main lobby has a visual connection to a color-saturated playground. The use of brighter and bolder colors outdoors reflects the less restrained nature of the play space.

Two Rivers Middle School

This project encompassed a new, two-story, 28,000-square-foot middle school in addition to a historic school building used as an elementary school for Two Rivers Public Charter School. The new middle school addition is designed around a central light monitor that washes down over the main circulation stairs and gathering space, illuminating the school at its core. Each grade also has its own community space and corresponding color. All three of the grades’ colors are visible from the central feature stair and tiered seating at the heart of the building, emphasizing the middle school community coming together as a whole.

The strategic use of color in architecture evokes desired emotional responses, reinforces cultural meanings, enhances spatial perception, facilitates wayfinding, and improves user experience, success, and satisfaction. Architects who understand how colors affect individuals can design spaces with a greater impact on their end users and develop meaning by creating environments that are not only visually appealing but also supportive of users’ well-being and goals.

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