New London Architecture

To whom does a facade belong?

Friday 02 July 2021

Dami Babalola

UK Architecture Colour Expert
Axalta

“To whom does a facade belong – to a building, or to the public space that it faces?” This is a question posed by architect and educator, Rafael Gomez-Moriana, in his essay ‘Everyday Camouflage in the City’. The various applications of colour to buildings’ façades offer a range of responses to this interesting question.

When applied to a façade, colour will determine the level of integration or disintegration a building maintains with its surroundings. If a bright, bold, contrasting colour is applied in a single, solid block to a façade, the building’s form will be emphasized, making it stand out against its surroundings’ usually mixed palette of tone and texture. On the other hand, an architect might want a building to have very little visual impact and therefore opt for a mimetic façade that adapts to its surroundings, choosing colours that already populate its environment.
 
Bearing the above in mind, how conspicuous a building is could be argued to correlate with its notion of to whom it belongs. A facade that stands out against its environment could be seen to proclaim, ‘I belong to the building’, whereas a facade that blends it with its neighbours says ‘I belong to the public space’. 


The Orange Cube in Lyon, France, by Jakob + MacFarlane Architects, was completed in 2011. Both its adventurous form and colour were chosen to bring energy to the area, by creating a dynamic contrast with its surroundings.
In between mimetic and contrasting coloured facades are those that are harmonious. These facades strike a sense of balance with their surroundings, colour and pattern chosen carefully as to be congruent with their surroundings. 

A beautiful example of this is the town of Longyearbyen in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The colour of the landscape changes dramatically throughout the year – a blank white canvas of snow for seven months, and the grey gravel beneath exposed during the summer.

Longyearbyen – Christopher Michel, CC BY 2.0
This amount of change meant that mimetically coloured facades were not possible – the architecture could not be disguised or camouflaged. At the same time, strong chromatic colours would have been detrimental to the indigenous environment. The decision was made to use colour to create a ‘dialogue’ between the man-made structures and the natural landscape, allowing the buildings to ‘define themselves with their own characteristic colour scale – inspired from, but not imitating, the colours of nature’.

VITA building by 5plus Architects
 Another example of a harmonious colour palette, this time in a bustling city, is the VITA First Street student accommodation building in the heart of Manchester, by 5plus Architects. Colour palette, pattern and geometry join forces on the building’s facade, creating a striking, yet harmonious addition, to the area. Home to Gen Z, the colours of the student building’s facade – subtle undulating patterns of beige and brown tones in response to its surroundings – reflect the generation’s reputation for ‘conspicuous non-consumption’ and pursuit of authenticity. 

Gomez-Moriana points out that ultimately ‘the face of a building is an immutable aspect of the collective memory of the city’ – memories generated by those who come into contact with the building. In this sense, it’s the citizens to whom a facade belongs.



Dami Babalola

UK Architecture Colour Expert
Axalta



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