It's been an amazing month of events with the London Festival of Architecture. On 8th June we hosted ‘The City Canvas: Colour with Care’, a panel discussion, at our Colour Experience Room in the Building Centre, London.
I’m keen to share some of the highlights from the discussion, which focused on legibility in the context of urban design and architecture, and colour’s role in enhancing the understanding of a place.
Eva Woode, Director of Studio Woode, chaired, and was joined by an excellent group of speakers, each bringing a unique perspective to the discussion: Patricia Brown, Director at Central; Harbinder Singh Birdi, Partner at Hawkins\Brown and Cath Carver, Founder of Colour Your City.
To kick things off, Patricia Brown reminded us of London in the late 1990s – a city with an infrastructure unashamedly optimised for cars with limited provision for pedestrians. Brown and the team at the Central London Partnership campaigned for pedestrians to be put front and centre of the city – sweeping a metaphorical arm around those on foot to say ‘welcome’. Brown pointed out that adopting this strategy was essential in order for the capital to thrive. A city needs to be designed in a way that gives those on foot the confidence to get lost and then found again. This introduced the topic of ‘wayfinding’, or as Brown suggests, more accurately, ‘wayshowing’, and Legible London, the city-wide network of mapping monoliths, intended to improve London’s walkability. The bright yellow stripe across the top of the monoliths was chosen with the intention of making them easier to spot in the urban environment.
Harbinder Singh Birdi, spoke about colour as a navigational tool in the context of Hawkins\Brown’s work at Tottenham Court Road underground station, and their collaboration with the French artist Daniel Buren. Following the precedent set by Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), whose colourful mosaics, salvaged in the station’s redevelopment following a campaign by the Twentieth Century Society, cover 950sq metres of the underground station, Buren’s signature bold, block-colour, geometric installation is striking and supersized. Titled ‘Diamonds and Circles’, colourful shapes climb the walls by the escalators to the Centre Point tower exit and black and white shapes lead to the Oxford Street Entrance.
Birdi explained that footfall at Tottenham Court Road surpasses that of Heathrow Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 4 combined, and like Heathrow, is used by people from all around the world. Buren’s large graphic artworks instantly distinguish the station’s entrances and work as signposts, universally understood, helping people navigate the station and find one another amongst the hectic crowds.
Cath Carver discussed colour-based research and colour as a way to activate citizenship and bring people together. The organisation ‘Colour Your City’ develops site-specific projects that utilises colour’s potential as a tool of language and communication, making urban environments more legible and invigorating. Carver collaborates closely with the communities that host the installations, asking them about their connection to colour and how they would like it integrated into their local area. There appears to be a unanimous ‘yes’ to more colour across the city. Carver pointed out that not all interventions need to be permanent, referencing the use of light and colour used to illuminate the National Theatre on the Southbank.
Can there be too much colour? Carver suggests not: “There will always be diverse opinions on colour. There is more boldness that can be included. There’s a big fear of getting it wrong. Does there need to be a fear, or is it about more education and just going for it?”
This lack of education results in a general lack of confidence when it comes to using colour in the built environment, Brown argues. More colour-centric education, from an early age, will produce more colour-confident communities in the future and more colourful buildings, to uplift and delight.