How does colour affect the functionality of a room or building? What architects and designers HAVE TO know.

Functionality, efficiency and aesthetics play a paramount role in the choice of various floor types. This feature will explore the significant role that colour plays in influencing the architectural design sphere, both functionally and decoratively. So too we look at how colour has infiltrated the various coating products available today.

Functional colour in architectural design
The sense of sight (visual stimulation) gives ten times more information than all other senses. Humans receive 80% of their information from the environment where colour belongs. Colour, which is created by light, is a form of energy and this energy affects body function just as it influences mind and emotion. Our response to colour influences us both psychologically and physiologically.

The approach of architects to colour specifications indicates the following consumer patterns:
• It is based on colour preferences of both the client and the specifier
• Off-whites/broken whites are always deemed the ‘safe’ option. They mix and match easily with surrounding colours of fittings and furnishings.
According to Dorothy van’t Riet, owner at Dorothy van’t Riet Design & Décor Consultants, floorcoverings in neutral shades adapt more easily to different design styles and are less likely to date. “A uniform light colour can be used effectively to tie a series of spaces together, increasing the apparent size of a room, and forming a good visual platform for the rest of the design,” she explains. “The exception is where the flooring provides drama or focus as a planned part of the interior design. So too, different types of spaces lend themselves to different colour effects. The use of the space determines the colour chosen: formal or casual; modern or traditional; warm or cool; sophisticated or relaxed.”

Colour in the design space and the application gap
Colour is more than a decorative element. It is an integral element in the natural world and the man-made architectural environment and serves as a means of communication. It decisively influences the statement, acceptance and effects of architectural spaces and surrounding objects.

An application gap lies in the marketplace where the functional aspects of colour are not being harnessed in colour marketing and subsequent colour specifications. Everyone speaks of ‘smart innovations’ in numerous design fields… When then is ‘smart colour’ going to be introduced within the architectural design sphere?

Introducing functional colour design
To explore the functionality of colour design, a few areas of the colour experience and human psycho-physiological reaction will be touched on below.

Psychological effects
One author concluded after several studies on the topic of colour as a visual language through its associative and symbolic content, “It would indicate either that our heritage is such that we learn the correct responses or that there is some innate mood reactions to different colours.”

Each colour in its variations of saturation and lightness/darkness factors gives an impression and a message. Anyone knowledgeable in the field will tell you that even a slight variation in any colour can alter the emotional response that one has to the colour stimulus. For example, red is stated to cause excitement and arousal, but which red are we making reference to? There are hundreds of possible colour derivatives that fall under the umbrella term ‘red’.

The lesson is that modifying a primary hue’s attributes of value, i.e. lightness/darkness and saturation, will alter the psychological and physiological effect it has on humans. In the creation of the coloured architectural environment, these effects are worked with to create mood. But the mood has to fit the function of an architectural space and not entertain the senses. For example, a school room has a different function to that of a hospital patient room, etc.

Neuropsychological aspects
Neuropsychological investigation has highlighted how certain systems change an individual’s emotional state. Colour design within the architectural space is separated into the following three categories:
1. Dominant colour (the colour used on the major surface of space such as floor coatings) that sets the ambience and mood;
2. Sub-dominant colours are floors; and
3. Accents (furnishings, etc.)
Colour intensities that are too weak; colour harmony that is too monochromatic (using the same colour in the dominant area); achromatic colours that are used unsparingly (white and grey as dominants); and colour contrasts that are too weak or monotone have been found to result in restlessness, excessive emotional response, difficulty in concentration and irritation in studies of inhabitants in buildings such as schools, healthcare facilities, etc.

Over-stimulation occurs when the colour intensity is too strong while balance in colour is achieved through varied but moderate stimulation of the senses.

Supporting visual efficiency and user comfort
In the design of space, concern must always be shown for conditions that will affect visual efficiency and comfort. Eye fatigue is caused by the muscles, not the eye nerves. Control of extreme contrasts in darkness and light is essential. If the contrast isn’t regulated, the iris muscles experience undue stress because the pupil is forced to undergo constant adjustment. Vision should be held at mid-tones, and the ideal light-to-reflection ratio is three to one. This means controlling the light/reflection ratios of the colours of floors, walls and furniture.

Recommended reflection for floors is 20%; 25-40% for furniture and 40-60% for walls (which can be stretched to a somewhat higher level as long as the percentages of floors and furniture are also raised to stay within the 3-1 ratio). The 3-1 ratio is now a national norm. Reflectance ratios can be found for example in most colour fan decks by major paint manufacturers under the designation of Light Reflection Value (LRV).

Emotional effects and psychosomatics
All visual elements (colour, light, texture, patterns and furnishings) within an architectural space are a sense perception and their symbolic, associative and aesthetic effects are psychological. This perception forms an impression upon the viewer, either consciously as he evaluates, or subconsciously as he experiences. The impression engenders a reaction that carries some type of emotional content. This emotional reaction may affect or influence physiological wellbeing.

The emotional content or emotional loading of an environment is one of the most important considerations of appropriate architectural design. Colour plays an important role since it determines the overall mood or ambience of an interior space. The goal is to create places and spaces that will not unnecessarily burden the mental and physical wellbeing of their inhabitants.

Colour should be specified to support the function of the building and the tasks being carried out within the architectural space. Architecture must strive to serve humans and their needs. Colour must always be used with informed sense and purpose and not merely applied for colour’s sake.

Coatings and colour
Decorative floor coatings such as polyurethane, epoxy and resins can significantly increase the attractiveness of floors through decorative designs and the functional use of colour as discussed above. Besides their functional benefits such as chemical and thermal resistance, crack bridging and safety or in upgrading surfaces and protecting against corrosion, to name just a few, certain floor coating products on the market today have relied on being innovative, high-tech floor coatings that offer decorative options to add to a design space’s aesthetic appeal. Unique colour usage also adds to these coatings’ several functional attributes.

This is crucial as new buildings require floors that are safe and attractive and for both requirements products need to be selected based on durability and decorative options available. The various coloured and textured floor coating products available can be utilised according to the colour specifications described above to ensure a product that is both beautiful and practical.

So too, all flooring types available, such as LVPs, carpets, rubber flooring, etc are manufactured to offer the industry a range of options in terms of colour, patterns and texture. For this reason, knowledge on the functionality of colour plays a crucial role in ensuring that a commercial space fulfils the needs from a design and architectural perspective.

Acknowledgement and thanks are given to Dorothy van’t Riet; Helen Gurura for her presentation “Colour is more than just Decoration – Functional colour in architectural design”; bayercoatings.com (Decorative Floorings); and expoxyflooring.co.za for the information contained in this article.