Helen Gurura is an internationally accredited colour design consultant, Cedar Paint’s resident architectural colour specifications specialist and executive vice-president of the International Association of Color Consultants (IACC). In this article for Walls & Roofs in Africa she gives her views on the balance in architectural colour design.
Colour is the most commonly seen element in both the natural and man-made environment, yet undoubtedly still remains the least understood in terms of its dynamics and the way it continues to be used in the architectural environment.
Humans are surrounded by colour and at times may not even be aware of the effects it has on them. Feelings can be evoked through colour at even an unconscious level and this gives rise to the term “colour emotion”, defined as “an associated feeling or emotion induced in the brain during the colour perception process”. In architectural psychology terminology this is called “the emotional loading of a space”. Achieving balance in colour design clearly remains a challenge though.
If a person measures balance by the visual information rate contained in an architectural space as it is perceived through the optical system, he can identify two opposite poles termed “unity” and “complexity”.
• Unity involves various components and parts fitting together into a coherent unit.
• Complexity involves more variation.
The balance between unity and complexity is the first and most important rule in the design of user-supportive architectural environments.
Extreme unity (monotony or sensory deprivation) can lead to under-stimulation, whilst extreme complexity can lead to over-stimulation. Exposure to over-stimulation can cause changes in the rate of breathing and an increase in muscular tension, pulse rate and blood pressure. Stress research has shown this.
Persons subjected to under-stimulation show symptoms of restlessness, excessive emotional response, difficulty to concentrate and irritation.
Over-stimulation and over-excitation through strong hues and vivid/bold geometric patterns are distracting and fatiguing. Strong colour, too much visual pattern and high brightness demand voluntary and involuntary attention. Vivid design in work areas can impair productivity by seriously interfering with work tasks that require visual concentration.
The under-stimulated environment is as unacceptable as the over-stimulated one. Colour variety is psychologically most beneficial. In the total environment, there must be colours in changing degrees of lightness (light and dark), temperature (warm and cool) and intensity (strong and weak). The complementary of the dominant colour should be present to some extent. People expect all their senses to be moderately stimulated at all times.
Balance is what is always needed. It is the securing of unity in the midst of variety. Variety and unity are necessary to sustain interest and these opposing forces must be balanced. Variety is necessary to attract and arouse interest, unity is essential to create a favourable impression and to satisfy mood requirements. Variety overdone is confusing and unpleasant, unity overdone is monotonous. The professional architectural colour designer should know precisely where to stop between these two extremes.
Using bold colour successfully in architectural design
Accent walls and/or décor accessories in bold hues are known to break the monotony that an otherwise bland and neutral colour scheme brings to an architectural space, but when designing showrooms or exhibition arenas, drawing the attention of observers becomes the colour designer’s top priority. In such cases, vivid and bold colours can be incorporated to meet the objective of the design process.
The use of intense colours within the architectural space is only encouraged when one proceeds with full colour design awareness of the psychological, neuropsychological, visual ergonomic and psychosomatic effects of colour on end-users. In as much as colour plays a decorative and aesthetic role in design, its functional aspects need to be factored in during the colour specifications process.
Guidelines as advocated by the International Association of Colour Consultants and Designers (IACC).
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