Research suggests that the psychology of colour has more to do with Australian design than you may realise.
According to experts, the human eye can distinguish as many as 10 million colours and it’s been proven we don’t respond to a single colour, in fact it’s the combination of colours that evoke positive and/or negative psychological reactions. How the eleven basic colours being; black, blue, brown, green, grey, orange, pink, red, violet, white and yellow affect you depends upon your personality type and the harmony between the combinations of colours you are viewing in conjunction with your personal background and past experiences.
If architects are typically seen to wear black and perceived as only designing grey buildings….. Why is colour important in design?
When balanced colour combinations are correctly integrated into a building’s design, the colours morph into a diagrammatic language, playfully interacting and uniting spaces, inspiring movement, rhythm and texture all while communicating a subconscious journey to the user. There is more to colour than just aesthetical appeal!
The relative affects of colour stem from our environment and natural primitive instincts. Colour is also nature’s own communication network – the universal, non-verbal language.
Scientifically, it is the first thing we register when we are assessing anything: a very simple and obvious example of that is our reaction to a fly in our home: if it is black or navy blue we probably find it a minor irritation, but if it has yellow stripes our reaction will be different – most of us will recoil. The same instinct tells us when food is unsafe to eat.
Using colour in architecture to provoke primal instincts provides the user with intuitive legibility on how to move through a building in addition to making spaces feel safe and inviting. The car park is a great example of how colour can be implemented as a way finding directional device into a functional space used daily.
The power of unconscious primitive instincts aroused by colour is commonly overlooked within today’s technologically advanced modern cities. The colours of these manmade environments affect us no differently to those characteristics of our natural world. Smart architects will engage in a dialogue with the colours of our natural environment filtering them into our buildings empowering and inspiring the social behaviours and moods of their community.
Colour is universally used within educational facilities from primary and secondary schools to universities and libraries. There have been a number of studies on the enhancement of learning capabilities through the use of colour. But why does the use of colour stop here? The average Australian spends approximately 40hrs a week at work or 160hrs per month or 1,920hrs a year in the work place. However the use of colour in the work place is scarce and commonly only associated with corporate branding opposed to enhancing the workplace for the benefits of employee’s health, their motivation or user comfort.
Just as design is subjective, so too is a person’s individual response to the use of colour.
While our responses are subjective based on past personal experiences our reactions can be predicted based on science. In 1984, Angela Wright wrote her paper on identified links between patterns of colour and patterns of human behaviour. The process of Wright’s theory was summarised into the following:
- There are four colour groups which contain colours that all harmonise together
- There are four basic personality types
- Each personality type has a natural affiliation with one colour group
- Each colour group expresses a personality type (The personality types are linked back to the laws of nature, echoing the natural patterns of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter)
This theory resulted in an answer to how colour influences mood and behaviour and why individuals have different aesthetic responses to the same colour. Integrating the basis of this theory into building concepts enables architects to propose spaces that totally engage a user physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.
Physically – colours have been proven to stimulate the body, instigate basic survival instincts and even increase your heart rate. An example of such a colour is red. Look at the images above and think about how the red objects make you feel.
Mentally – colours can influence communication, logic, efficiency and even stimulate intelligence. An example of this colour is Blue.
Emotionally – colours with a long wavelength can stimulate emotion and heighten self-esteem. An example of this colour is Yellow.
A smart architect will identify the values, aspirations and characteristics of the building typology together with that of the end users.
Spiritually – colours with a short wavelength are highly introverted and encourage mediation and contemplation. An example of this colour is Green.
These objectives are then associated to a colour group to communicate these desires. At this point material palettes and mood boards are established and up-held throughout the design process. An architect with coherent decisions behind colour and material choices has innovative freedom in addition to a logical process to endorse their design decisions.
Most importantly it results in a piece of architecture in our build environment that emotionally stimulates and motivates the moods and behaviours of its users.