Don’t Get The Blues, Paint The Town Red
Why is it that when colour-blind people are able to see colours for the first time, they’re overwhelmed with emotion? How do you explain why depressed people can’t see colours the way non depressed people do? What is the logic behind the modern architecture trend of building steel and glass structures where the predominant colours are grey, black and white; and yet when people travel, they go to places like Cinque Terre or Lisbon, which are defined by a sea of brighter, more lively colours?
These were just some of the questions Dagny Thurmann-Moe posed at the most recent Urban Future Global Conference in Oslo. And who better than Thurmann-Moe to be the person to ask such questions, as the owner and creative director of KOI Fargestudio…. a colour consulting firm that adds its creative touch to everything from residential and commercial buildings, to entire neighbourhoods, to schools, hospitals, hotels and even industrial areas.
Colours to create happier and healthier cities
As Thurmann-Moe sees it – literally, “Humans are primed to look for colour… colours are a sign of a healthy environment.” And yet she says, “we have never been further away from our natural surroundings than where we are today.”
Thanks in part to her background in sociology, Thurmann-Moe has a keen understanding of how colours positively affect the human psyche. And not unlike a fish swimming upstream against modern architecture’s fixation with neutral tones, she’s determined to remind – if not re-educate – everyone from architects to builders and city planners of our intrinsic need for colour, in the interest of creating happier, healthier cities. She even conducts colour seminars for architects as part of her mission to reconnect people with colour.
Why colour competence matters
“Architects don’t learn about colour in school. So the competence is gone,” says Thurmann-Moe. “They’re more focused on engineering, shape and lighting… everything but the final touch which is the colours and the material.” One of the questions she poses is how materials and surfaces affect how we see a space, or a room or a street… the answer to which she says, “architects know little or nothing about.”
From an aesthetics perspective, Thurmann-Moe says that in an ideal world, a new building or residential community should harmonize with what’s already there and complement the richness of not only the area’s history, but also its traditional use of colours in the decades and centuries that preceded modern architecture’s fixation with monotones.
Make the city glow: success story for a residential complex in Oslo
To get the proverbial colour ball rolling, a few years ago Thurmann-Moe began researching examples of contemporary architecture that made extensive use of colours on their façade and to her amazement “I couldn’t find anything,” she says with a laugh. So her answer was to take an existing skyline of modern buildings in Oslo and combining a keen eye for colours with research into the city’s historic colours…. apply a vibrant new palette of colour to these buildings. It was just a virtual exercise she did on her computer, but it served its purpose for her target audience, contrasting the minimalist use of colours in the ‘before’ picture with a much more vibrant use of colours in the ‘after’ version.
This eye opening approach to transforming buildings has since led to numerous real world projects, including one for Oslo client Sameiet Badebakken, for a huge multi-block building complex with a plaster façade that hadn’t been painted in over a decade. Prior to commencing that project, the building tenants were divided 50/50 over whether to repaint the buildings the same, relatively dull colours as before or whether to opt for a more dramatic use of historic colours. But recalls Thurmann-Moe, when her team presented their more adventurous colour scheme at the annual general meeting for residents this past spring “everyone loved’’ the proposed colour palette. “It was unanimous, and we got applause all through the presentation. So they were really happy with the results.”
The actual painting of the buildings is now well underway and nearing completion and Thurmann-Moe says the feedback from residents has been that the residential complex now feels less like a group of large buildings, but rather more intimate and original, almost like a much smaller townhouse complex. Non-residents are benefitting as well, because the buildings are in harmony with what’s already there, helping to beautify the neighbourhood.
Looking towards the future of colour-awakened cities
Interestingly enough, when her firm does colour consulting for industrial buildings, they’ve often recommended using even more colours than in a residential setting.
“If a building has few aesthetic elements, I would work with more wall murals and different ways to incorporate colours. Very often, industrial areas have large buildings that are in places that are a bit strange. So you need to mask them with colours to make them warm and friendly.”
Thanks to work Thurmann-Moe and her firm has done in their own back yard, the city of Oslo has taken the unprecedented step of establishing a colour council along with creating a colour guide both for future development as well as the transformation of existing buildings. And she says other cities in Norway are now looking to follow suit in what has essentially become a ‘colour awakening’ for these communities.
One city Thurmann-Moe continues to draw inspiration from is Lisbon, Portugal – where the 2020 Urban Future Global Conference will be held in early April of next year.
“Lisbon is intensely beautiful. The tiled facades are stunning, wild and complex… Definitely not something you see everywhere”
It’s a city where not surprisingly, one of the biggest draws for residents and tourists alike, is its vibrant mix of colours.