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UNStudio studies colour


AkzoNobel is one of the world’s leading industrial companies and the largest global paints and coatings manufacturer. As a key driver for AkzoNobel’s coatings business, color is extremely important. This is particular true for the Decorative Paints industry where AkzoNobel actively stimulates the use of color. This includes external and internal color and trend research and close collaboration with architects, interior designers and principals of major construction projects, as well as providing comprehensive guidance and tools for the selection and use of color for both professionals and consumers. While interior design tends to be more open and “courageous” regarding the application of color, the use of color in architectural design - particularly in the urban environment - is limited. Because AkzoNobel is interested in the understanding and application of color in our modern city landscape the company commissioned the internationally renowned Dutch architectural firm UNStudio to execute independent research after this phenomenon. Looking at the potential aesthetical, technological, cultural, societal and economic causes and barriers that are preventing a more widespread and meaningful use of color in contemporary architecture. Anne van der Zwaag AkzoNobel Aesthetic Center

UNStudio studies color

Color is an important aspect of architecture. Buildings belong to the public realm and as such their visual contributions to the city are socially relevant. Color is an intrinsic part of that narrative and has the ability to enrich and transform the readings of both space and place. UNStudio embraces all colors in architecture; we enjoy a diverse palette. In the Almere office project La Defense (2001) color says something to us about time of day. The internal courtyard elevations change color depending on the incidence of the light, naturally animating the office environment by producing ever changing atmospheres. For the laboratory in Groningen (2009) color is offered as an opening up of the faรงade, a link between the communal zones of the campus and the research building.



UNStudio studies color

Our enjoyment of color leads us to ask: what is the role of color in the urban environment? Why is color important? And how can it be used in better ways? This pre study serves to articulate some questions and issues relating to the future of color in the urban environment. UNStudio occupies a highly specific position within this field. We want to acknowledge this position (it would be disingenuous to pretend to be a neutral observer of a discipline in which we actively participate and compete) and this study is therefore largely of a personal nature, casting a reflective light on our own use of color and question our own decisions in order to further the understanding of the use and the future of color in the urban environment.



Cultural Identity

For many societies color is a direct expression of their culture; different cultures distinguish and identify themselves in part by the colors found in their environment. Colors can be seen as a reflection of location. Local climate and environmental factors coupled with regional building materials and technology all play a role in determining the visual environment of a city. There is a direct chromatic link between material and location seen in traditional buildings of Dubai where materials for coral and mud bricks are locally quarried. As these determinants vary from place to place identity can be found in their uniqueness. These ‘hard’ parameters of geography and technology have shared relationships with the associative attachments that a culture may place on a color. Collective memory and cultural meanings can often bee seen visualised trough the distinct use of color treatments. A strong example is the Korean ‘Dancheong’ traditional color scheme. Here the facade color application is used both to protect the wooden structure from the elements as well as functioning as a codification system, indicating the building’s status. Function and significance of colors contribute to the experience of a location, infusing meaning and loci, adding to the identity of place.




Color has the potential to play a unique role in challenging the homogeneity experienced in the modern city. Cities are often shaped by very pragmatic decisions with one of the ramifications being the prevalence of certain colors within the urban environment. Global access to building materials and construction methods has encouraged the uniformity of the ever expanding modern city. The danger of repetitious standardization of building elements is that it can lead to monotony and in turn lack of place, with the result that nothing unique, nothing distinguishable marks the environment upon which to orientate yourself. It needs to be remembered that in our large metropolitan cities, culture is not only attached to cultural buildings. Here, large buildings transcend their roles as retail or office typologies due to their scale and the extensive room they occupy within the city. There is a need to see these buildings as playing a social role and consider their impact on the public realm.




Vernacular architecture is often far more colorful and expressive than that of the modern architect. The role of the architect is to be examined. Why is modern architecture more visionary in form than in color? Historically color has been both valued and marginalized within Western theory and philosophy dating back to the Renaissance where the debate between the value of color and that of the drawn line sparked much debate. The privileging of line over color continued to be an important point of discussion within modernist discourse where color is thought of as emotional while line is promoted as being intellectual. Often color is relegated to secondary status and the idea that strong architectural form should stand alone, unadorned and devoid of chromatic considerations which would only lead to distracting the viewer’s attention.


Le Corbusier, 1925, The Decorative Art of Today: ‘What shimmering silks, what fancy, glittering marbles, what opulent bronzes and golds!... Let’s have done with it…It is time to crusade for whitewash ...’ Quote: David Batchelor, Chromophobia.


Color in the urban environment is a taboo A taboo is a social and cultural construct. The general tendency to shy away from and marginalize color has given rise to patterns of behavior some of which have become so second nature that they remain for the most part unchallenged or unnoticed. Whether lack of chromatic consideration is due to pragmatic reasons, architectural trends, the universal access to building materials or construction methods and technology, cities and neighborhoods run the risk of disassociation with their inhabitants and loss of identity of place. The inclusion of color into the discussion of our urban environments can intrinsically aid in addressing some of the contemporary societal demands put on the modern city.



The future of color use in the urban environment There are a number of venues identified where color is added into the public environment. These examples not only lead to interesting thoughts on potential avenues of architectural pursuit, but also demonstrate that there is a need already identified for urban color usage. New typologies have emerged such as public art installations and exhibition pavilions which fill an important niche within the city fabric. They are prized and highly regarded landmarks and symbols of the city. There are numerous scales by which one can experience the urban environment. Public art and temporary pavilions engage color at the scale of the pedestrian. Whether permanent or transitory, often cropping up in unexpected locations, they are vehicles promoting social connection. New techniques, often associated with art and pavilion design, offer a territory rich with possibilities. One fruitful avenue is the application of technological techniques. Amongst other developments a transformative use of color has emerged, where LEDs and projections are able to completely alter the appearance of the environment.



Color as an urban activator The meaningful use of color The color palette for UNStudio’s Agora Theater in Lelystad was based on a chromatic spectrum distilled from photos taken of cloud formations over the city of Lelystad. The vivid colors are from the effect of light reflecting off water onto the low lying clouds.Our experience of using a strong color palette with the theatre project is akin to wearing your heart on your sleeve. Architects who use color in an outstanding way leave themselves open for review. The reward has been that the vivid colors create great identification; people have strong feelings towards the building, and it has become a symbol for the city. Unique to Lelystad, the building evokes a sense of pride and ownership.


The dynamic use of color The architectural use of color must concern itself with the volumetric perception of chromatic change. Color reacts in a three dimensional manner in relation to changing variables, for instance distance, scale, and light conditions. The changes in hue or color saturation can greatly influence the perception of an object and in turn space. The varying daylight conditions in Rotterdam have a chameleon effect on the color of our design of the Erasmus bridge, both sky and water influence the visual perception of the light blue, color embodying a dynamic effect. 15

Color as an urban activator From name branding to place branding There is an innate importance in creating a positive living environment. Visual disorder is often the result of clashing and competing agendas, frequently market driven. This color pollution can diminish urban quality and identity. With proper planning color can be taken away from branding and given public significance. In this way color becomes about place.


Way finding Color has the potential to function as a way finding tool, creating references or landmarks within the city, allowing for and acting as points of orientation. It permits you to locate yourself as well as having the capacity to guide and steer pedestrian flows


Pre- Study conclusion and future directions Our investigation into the use of color has taken us on an amazing journey, from historical theories to contemporary practice as well as insight into the future. Through all the variables one constant remains and that is the important role that color can play in the urban environment. The effect and influence that color has is profound and as architects we are privileged with the opportunity to be able to include color within our design tools. Within this pre study phase of the research project we have identified strong and promising ways to activate color in the urban environment; the meaningful, the dynamic, color as place branding, and as way finding. With these techniques as a base we look to the future, how can they be used in order to encourage the use of color in the modern urban landscape.

We propose three themes as points of departure for further investigations and discussions of color as urban attractor. Cultural connector The first avenue of pursuit is that of color as a ‘Cultural connector’, the bringing together, where color says something about how a community identifies itself as a group within a location. Identity of place. Social activator The second is the potential of color to activate public life as a ‘Social activator’. This is where color plays a role in stimulating social events and focusing civic energies. Public attractor The third theme we propose for future investigation is the ability of color to create a sense of orientation, a method of navigating through the city, using color as ‘Public attractor’.


Reference materials

Images 1 V. Sassen.” La Defense office building, UNStudio.” Photograph. Almere, the Netherlands. 2 Richters, Christian.” Research laboratory, UNStudio.” Photograph. Groningen, the Netherlands. 3 Richters, Christian.” The Agora Theatre, UNStudio 2007.” Photograph. Lelystad, the Netherlands. 4 Richters, Christian.” Star Place, UNStudio 2008.“ Photograph. Kaohsiung, Taiwan. 5 Pound, Geoff. “Old Bastakiya Quarter, Dubai.” Photograph. El 28 May 2008. Nov. 2008.<> 6 sopgiel “Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul South Korea.” Photograph. Nov 14, 2008. Dec 2008. < photos/sopgiel/3029914803/> 7 Street view. New York 8 Yansi. “View from Lupu Bridge in Shanghai, China.” Photograph. Jan 27 2008. Nov 2008. < photos/yansi/2178250466/> 9 Mehta, Khanjan. “The city of Manarola, northern Italy.” Photograph. 2005. Nov. 2008. < wordpress/?m=200806>

10 “Guggenheim Museum“. Photograph. arc202.blogspot. com. Jan.30 2008. Nov.20081959. <http://arc202.blogspot. com/2008/01/guggenheim-museum.html> 11 cnmark. “Hong Kong - Reflection ‘3 in 1’.” Photograph. Oct. 20 2007. Nov 2008. < 6807266> 12 Seb* [aka *]’s “Yuppie, l’école est finie , Cheminee de Moretti a la Defence”. Photograph. Jun 3 2008. Nov.2008. <> 13 Javier Belver “Ariel view of the 2008 Zaragoza Expo “ Photograph. Publication date unlisted. 15 Jan. 2009 <> 14 ”The Agora Theatre, UNStudio 2007.” Photograph. Lelystad, the Netherlands 15 Richters, Christian.” Erasmus Bridge, UNStudio.” Photograph. Rotterdam, the Netherlands:1996 16 (left) New York (right) Richters, Christian. “Galleria Department Store, UNStudio 2004.” Photograph. Seoul, Korea. 15 “IMM Cologne Furniture Fair, UNStudio 2008.” Photograph. Cologne, Germany

Reference materials



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Kuehni, G Rolf. “Forgotten Pioneers of Color Order. Part I: Gaspard Gregoire (1751–1846).” COLOR research and application (2007): volume 33, number 1.

Swirnoff, Lois. Dimensional Color. New York: Norton, W. W. & Company, 2003. Batchelor, David. Chromophobia .London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2000. Porter, Tom. Colour for Architecture Today. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2008. Mahnke, H Frank. Colour, Environment, and Human Response. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996. Lenclos, Jean-Philippe and Lenclos, Dominique. Colors of the World: A geography of Color. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2004. Shelton, Barrie. Learning from the Japanese City, west meets east in urban design. London: Spon Press, 1999. Suh, Jae-Sik. Korean Patterns. Elizabeth, (N.J.): Hollym International, 2007.

Caivano, Jose´ Luis. “Research on Color in Architecture and Environmental Design: Brief History, Current Developments, and Possible Future.” COLOR research and application (2006): volume 31, number 4. Caivano, Jose´ Luis. Lopez, Mabel Amanda. “Chromatic Identity in global and Local markets: Analysis of colour branding.” Colour: Design & Creativity (2007) article viewed 2008 <> Aiping, Gou and Jiangbo, Wang. “Research on the Location Characters of Urban Color Plan in China.” COLOR research and application (2007): volume 33, number 1. Yugo, Hatakey, Toshinobu, and Suguru, Oku. “The Changing Appearance of Color of Architecture in Northern City - A Comparison Study of Architecture’s Appearance in Summer and in Winter, in

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“Chronological Bibliography on Color Theory.” Color Research Program School of Architecture, Design and Urbanism, Buenos Aires University. article viewed 2008. < sitios/sicyt/color/bib.htm>

Stadhouderskade 113 Postbus 75381 1070 AJ Amsterdam T +31 (0)20 570 2040 F +31(0)20 570 2041 E I

Zhang, Tingting.”New Urban Garbage, Color Pollution.” China. May 25, 2004. article viewed 2008.< cn/english/2004/May/96405.htm> “City’s color plan not as simple as black and white.” China Daily. March 22, 2007 article viewed 2008.< articles/07/0322/9912/OTkxMg1PhyTxcN.html>


Ben van Berkel, Caroline Bos with Machteld Kors and Colette Parras. Graphic design Bloemendaal & Dekkers, Amsterdam

Leon V. Solon. “Principles of Architectural Polychromy.” The Architectural Record (1922).article viewed Nov. 2008.<> Minah, Galen. “Colour as Idea: The Conceptual Basis for Using Colour in Architecture and Urban Design.” Colour: Design & Creativity (2008): 1-9.URL. article viewed Nov. 2008.<http://www.>

Anne van der Zwaag and Holger Ebbighausen

Metabolic Media by Loop.pH

Biomimetic architecture modeled on molecular structures and metabolism in living cells. Metabolic Media for Nobel Textiles London Design Festival 2008 Presented at the ICA and Saint James始s Park 14-21 September 2008 Free catalogue available

Nobel Textiles is jointly funded by the MRC and Epigenome NoE and based at Central Saint Martins, London Copyright 2008 Loop.pH Ltd

Metabolic Media by Loop.pH Science and Design Collaboration Nobel Textiles is a collaboration between five Nobel-winning scientists and five designers to create textiles inspired by the discoveries of the Nobel Laureates. Loop.pH has been paired with Sir John E. Walker and this document discusses the journey and discoveries of this unique collaboration. Rachel Wingfield and Mathias Gmachl have been responding to the work of Sir John E. Walker, who has been instrumental in improving our understanding of biological energy conversion in living cells. Awarded a Nobel Prize in 1997 for his work describing how enzymes make ATP (adenosine triphosphate), he has outlined one of the most important biological systems known to man. Every day we convert around one-half our body weight in ATP. The constant cycling of this molecule drives everything from decomposition to muscle contraction in anything from bacteria to crocodiles. We share John始s interest in the workings of this incredible molecular machine with its rotary motor that spins at 50-100 times every second within our cells. For the past two years we have investigated the qualities of ENERGY - in a very broad context - using design to address some of the serious issues we face today from our dependance on cheap energy to human nutrition and global food shortages. Our proposals include lightweight solutions for urban agriculture to creating adaptive flexible architecture based on molecular biology, coupled with energy harvesting canopies and membranes inspired by photosynthesis. Our design process has reflected a 驶metabolic thinking始 where waste is food in an ever cycling and emergent system.

Nobel Textiles is jointly funded by the MRC and Epigenome NoE and based at Central Saint Martins, London Copyright 2008 Loop.pH Ltd

Metabolic Media by Loop.pH The meeting of Science and Design is imperative and it can happen in our kitchens. The objective is to allow more people to participate in using scientific methodologies in an ecological way to improve their local environment. From the outset, this project has been about using design to open up the process of discovery, sharing the field of science with the general public - from running workshops to performances and installations. Our studio始s woven and modular architectural structures provide a lightweight solution for growing food plants in small spaces without soil. We始ve married this with current research on organic and dye-sensitized solar cells, which can be made at home with berries picked from your garden. The urban ecosystem, Metabolic Media, comprises of geotextile structures and solar cells designed to charge the batteries of a fueling pump system that feeds and monitors the network of plants by misting the roots with nutrient rich solution.

Nobel Textiles is jointly funded by the MRC and Epigenome NoE and based at Central Saint Martins, London Copyright 2008 Loop.pH Ltd

Metabolic Media by Loop.pH Autonomous membranes powered by the sun

One of the exciting developments of this project has been the outcome of a collaboration with Risø DTU, the National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy in Denmark. We have been working with printed, organic solar cells based on the work by Dr. Frederik Krebs, Senior researcher and Torben Damgaard Nielsen, Innovation pilot. Large tensile surfaces and building facades could be used to harness the suns energy and turn it into electrical energy using flexible printed photovoltaics (solar cells).

Nobel Textiles is jointly funded by the MRC and Epigenome NoE and based at Central Saint Martins, London Copyright 2008 Loop.pH Ltd

Metabolic Media by Loop.pH A modular photovoltaic membrane was prototyped for the installation that can be clad to our synetic textile architecture to provide both shelter and shade from the sun during the day and once evening falls light is cast into the darkness using low-power micro LEDs with printed circuitry. We will be developing this over the next 12 months as a low cost, high volume source of light for emergency shelter relief - where light and electricity are not provided for. More information on the organic solar cells can be found here

Printed electronics clad to the structures allow energy to be harvested from the sun and light emitted at night mimicking the way plants photosynthesize.

Nobel Textiles is jointly funded by the MRC and Epigenome NoE and based at Central Saint Martins, London Copyright 2008 Loop.pH Ltd

Metabolic Media by Loop.pH

We have been exploring how dye from blackberries and raspberries can produce electrical energy. This could be used to provide plants with water, light and nutrients and to power a network of environmental sensors feeding back to the growers. From this research we developed a workshop on Dye-sensitized solar cells in collaboration with Imperial College, London.

Solar Jam Workshop @ The ICA, London 15th September 2008

How can we turn our kitchens, homes and cities into community labs of researchers and nonexperts sharing knowledge and experience? The Solar Jam Workshop was designed to blur the distinctions between kitchens and laboratories and make people more familiar with a scientific heritage through celebrating the connections of traditional crafts to current research practices. People were invited to experiment with the energy potential of berries, onions and citrus leaves to make fully functional solar cells, edible jam and beautifully patterned textiles from the dyes of foodstuff. Substances have skillfully been extracted from plants for thousands of years for medicinal, nutritional and energy needs. It could be said that the very root of science can be found in these ancient craft traditions. Nobel Textiles is jointly funded by the MRC and Epigenome NoE and based at Central Saint Martins, London Copyright 2008 Loop.pH Ltd

Metabolic Media by Loop.pH Scientific background to workshop: The mechanism of dye-sensitized solar cells mimics the process of photosynthesis in green plants, using dye rather than chlorophyll to absorb energy from light (photons). This absorbed energy excites electrons; these electrons are moved around inside the chloroplasts found in plant cells and through many reactions, ATP and NADPH molecules are formed. Through additional reactions glucose and carbohydrates are produced.  In photosynthesis, the resulting output is used to generate ATP and NADPH, instead of voltage and an electrical current in the solar cells. The workshop was run in collaboration with the Department of Chemistry, Imperial College, London with scientists working with Professor James Durrant. Many thanks to Assaf Anderson, Tracy Dos Santos and Rick Hamilton for their support and help. Workshop based on an article from Smestad, G.P.: Gratzel, M. J. Chem. Educ. 1998, 75, 752-756.  

Contact If you would like further information about this two year project and how we are taking it forward, please get in contact with Rachel Wingfield. email: web: phone: +44(0)7792474091 skype: rachelwing

We also have many images that document the project on Flickr: Woven Dodec: St James Park: Solar Experiments: Nobel Textiles: For further information on Risø DTU, the National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy Please contact Torben Damgaard Nielsen,

Nobel Textiles is jointly funded by the MRC and Epigenome NoE and based at Central Saint Martins, London Copyright 2008 Loop.pH Ltd



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