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ABRAHAMSON

After the war, Birren published a lecture titled “Functional Color and the Architect” in the AIA Journal, advocating for the application of colour not as a matter of taste, but one “in which definite objectives are set up and in which results are determined by measurement.”3 Birren hoped to expand the project of functional colour beyond the purview of industrial safety. With little revision, this lecture became the introduction to his 1955 book New Horizons in Color, directed at architects and published by Reinhold. The most apropos statement of purpose therein is as follows: Today … a new functionalism for colour has come into existence. Like the symbolism of olden times it is less concerned with individual feeling than with a search for broader and more social values having to do not only with man’s pleasure but also with his efficiency, comfort, and well-being. The old attitude of letting one man’s personality dominate colour choice is being replaced (and perhaps rightfully so) by an objective study of the human needs and desires of all men.4 Aesthetics were therefore secondary, at best an effect produced by efficiency and measure. Building on the findings of experiments in human vision and performance conducted during the war, Birren believed this new science of colour would not only improve productivity and reduce accident rates in industry but would permit greater concentration in educational and office environments through a reduction of eye strain, and perhaps most importantly, enable advertisers to more easily appeal to both the eyes and the minds of their customers. In order to keep pace with competitors, it became imperative for businesses and institutions to “recondition” their buildings with colour. By providing a prescriptive code by which colour schemes could be developed, the discourse of functional colour made intuitive design methods seem obsolete. For those convinced by Birren’s rhetoric, aesthetics and symbolism were deemphasised in favor of demonstrable performance criteria. These criteria applied to both interiors and exteriors. Birren’s intentions with regard to exteriors, however, were less easily demonstrable. He preferred colour that was “integral with form,” and advocated the use of “unlimited colour possibilities” for variety in urban environments. In a chapter titled “Building Exteriors,” New Horizons in Color features a selection of well-known polychrome modern architectures including the Charles and Ray Eames’ house in Pacific Palisades, California, Eero Saarinen’s GM Tech Center outside Detroit, Juan O’Gorman’s murals on the central library block at UNAM in Mexico City, and Le-

3. Faber Birren, “Functional Color and the Architect,” American Institute of Architects Journal v. 11 (June 1949): 31-32.

4. Faber Birren, New Horizons in Color (New York: Reinhold, 1955): 2.

Profile for Saturated Space

Functional Colour  

the notion of a “functional” colour – colour that does something for or with or to you – was common in the 1950s, and not only in advertisin...

Functional Colour  

the notion of a “functional” colour – colour that does something for or with or to you – was common in the 1950s, and not only in advertisin...

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