Use of color in Modern Architecture

Use of color in Modern Architecture
by Kristina Held, AIA, LEED AP
Assistant Professor
Interior Design
The Art Institute of Charlotte

When we talk about use of bold color in modern architecture most of us think of eye hurting yellows and reds. This is the Pop Art and postmodern influence on the development of contemporary architecture. Also, building technology evolved so much that we can get any color on almost any material we can think of. But the most important question is: why color?
Many important works have been written on the meaning and use of color in architecture. Bruno Taut states in his work “The New Apartment” (Die Neue Wohnung) that there is a relationship between the color of our clothing and architecture. Taut says that there is a desired balance between the color of our clothing and space. He derives this from the colorless Japanese architecture and argues that it is so neutrual to provide a backdrop for the colorful traditional Japanese clothing. The modern man on the other hand, dresses very colorless and therefore Taut argues, to preserve the balance, we need to introduce color to the built environment. It is true: space can never be seen as separate from us. In no other period did architecture look so incomplete and empty without a person standing in it to fill the space and give it scale and meaning. We have to add that Bruo Taut was a leading figure in the development of modernism in general and that he had a speciall affinity towards color.
But there are other reasons for using color. Let’s take the example of the Charlotte Bechtler Museum by world famous architect Mario Botta. Mario Botta belongs to the second generation of rationalists, or neo-rationalists, together with Aldo Rossi and Leon Krier. This group of architects believes that every place has a spirit, a character to be preserved and never forgotten. So to preserve the genius loci architects most heavily depend on building prototypes, for the functional organization of the building, and on using materials that are inherent to the place where the building will stand. The genius loci, the spirit of a particular place offers a strong contra to architectural globalization. Rationalism seeks architectural solutions that fit in. Therefore, Mario Botta chooses the most used building material in the Carolinas – clay, but uses it in a new way: a terracotta rain screen vs. a traditional brick veneer. Through the material and its recognizable Carolina clay color the modern building is able to connect strongly with place, aknowledging it and respecting it. His answer to an extremly diverse urban situation was an introverted cubus with a carved in negative space that holds the exhibition rooms. The color and the cladding material is the only thing that connects this building to Charlotte, and it is a strong connection.
To conclude, color is a powerful and often underestimated or forgotten design tool. There are millions of reasons to use bold color in modern architecture. There are millions of reasons and arguments why color should always be considered. If color is part of the initial design process and has meaning, the results will be no doubt, aesthetically pleasing.