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THE FUNCTIONS OF COLOR IN URBAN SETTING

Reyhaneh Behbudi*, Syed Zainol Abidin Syed Abdullah Idid and Mahdi Torabi
Replace t Department of Architecture, Faculty of Built Environment, University Teknologi
Malaysia, Skudai, Johor, Malaysia
*
Email: reyhanehbehboudi@gmail.com
Abstract
We are surrounded by the colors. The first and the most eye-catching
information we collect from our living environment is something in color. The
noticeable role of this tangible element in our built environment has been
affirmed by scholars as well as practitioners. The color in urban context can
be seen in different ways. It is able to induce different feelings and conveys
variety of functions. This study, regarding the importance of the issue, is
going to investigate the roles, functions and scales of the color in urban
environment. For the purpose of this study we have read through and
covered existing literature and illustrated related pictures. Reviewing the
related texts revealed that color has been assigned a role of identity maker in
city context. It can significantly improve the aesthetic features of the city and
can be applied in different scales from urban details such as windows and
walls to streets, squares and districts. So many factors distinguish the
colorscape of the cities but the final composition of colors remarkably affects
the visitors and residents perceptions towards the place they visit and they
live in.
Keywords: Colorscape, Urban Sitting, Urban Design

Introduction
Colors are fundamental elements of our visual perception and environmental
experience; they are the substance of how we experience the environment. We
encounter and are surrounded by color whenever we open our eyes. It accompanies
us in diverse visual ways and is always connected with and influenced by light in the
natural or human-designed environment. In nature, we see color in the light of the
sky, when looking at water and landscapes. We see it in trees, stones, plants, fruits
and flower (Fig. 1). The human-designed environment is all in color: streets and
shops, buildings and spaces. We see it, in all its variety, in different objects and
cultural products. Color is of major significance in every realm of life.
Color is much more than an aesthetic; it is part of a life-giving and life-preserving
process. It is part of the terms and conditions under which human live and
experience. [1].

Fig. 1. Colorful Nature


The Concept of Color
According to Meerwein, Rodeck and Mahnke [1], all manifestations of color are
created when electromagnetic radiation at wavelengths in the visible spectrum
interacts with physical matter. In other words, color is a specific visual sensation
produced by visible radiation or color stimulus. Color stimulus occurs when light
from a natural or artificial source is interrupted by an object. The incident light rays
are absorbed or reflected in different ways depending on the physical matters
condition. That is, some wavelengths are filtered out from the lights color spectrum,
while the remaining wavelengths reach our eyes as color stimulus[1].
Color of the Cities
In the various factors which influence the character of a city, color with its "first sight"
is undoubtedly a basic factor for creating a special city. As city form represents
conceptual order, the plan of building volumes and spaces, city color shapes
perceptual experience. A sense of color, in fact is the most direct visual signature.
Preferences are evident in the vernacular. People select colors in their
surroundings, exhibiting a taste for certain combinations and avoiding others. A
collective eye seems to guide these choices, rather than individual inclination. They
are distinctive and self-contained, as much a part of human coding in cities as their
signs and symbols [2].
The Categories of Color in Urbanscape
As Xiaomin [3] stated the urban colorscape comprises natural color and artificial
color (or known as the cultural color). Urban bare land (including dirt roads), rocks,
grass, trees, rivers, coastal areas as well as the sky and so on, generate natural
colors. Natural color includes two aspects: dynamic and static; dynamic colors means
all elements that are viable during different parts of time such as seasonal colors;
and static colors means the elements such as the land (including dirt roads), rocks,
vegetation, water which they have relatively stable colors. Beauty of the color comes
from the fact that nature edifies human. For humanity, colors of nature are always
easy to accept, and the most beautiful. Therefore, the urban colorscape planning
should try to protect the outstanding natural color especially the natural color of trees,
grasslands, rivers rather than fighting against natural color. We should try to treat the
existing natural color as the urban background, constitute an urban background, and

have the cultural colors follow the natural colors; that is a shortcut to make the urban
colorscape harmonious.
Artificial color mainly refers to the color of urban buildings, structures, roads, street
furniture, advertising, transport and so on. In the composition of the urban artificial
color, the color can also be divided into fixed color and mobile color, permanent color
and temporary color. Various urban permanent buildings, structures, transportation
facilities, streets, squares, urban sculptures make up the fixed permanent color;
urban transport vehicles, pedestrians' clothing constitute the mobile color; urban
advertisements, logo signs, kiosks, street lamps, neon lights and windows, make up
the temporary color.
Factors Influence Urban Colorscape
As Xiaomin [3] indicated there are three factors that influence urban colorscape.
These are as follows:
Geography and climate: Swirnoff [2] in his book described the role of
Geography as below:
Color is direct expression and represents a response of the people to the
characteristics of the natural environment, to its harshness or abundance, desolation
or luxuriance, relative presence or absence of sunlight. Color experience and color
sense appear to be collective and vernacular expression.
In fact different geographical locations and physical environments have unique
climate, and thus they will affect human beings, race, customs, and cultures as well
as their taste for choosing the color of their cities.
Historical and cultural context: in some cases, a color palette is so strong and
has been used and recognized over such a longer period of that it becomes
traditional and an important part of the culture. In such instances color becomes
strongly symbolic. Towns, regions and even countries throughout history have
developed a strong traditional use of color. To cut short we have to say that the color
of a city is an aspect of its history [4].
Some cases to point out are old city of Fes, Morocco, which is recognized by the
range of brownish color, Jodhpur, India which is characterized by blue and Abyaneh,
Kashan, Iran in which the dominant color is red (Fig. 2).

Fig. 1. Abyaneh in Red, Kashan, Iran

Development of Technology: most of the traditional cities, before industrial


revolution, used to apply materials indigenous to their regions. Architectural styles
evolved within the limitations of available materials and this disciplined the form as
well as the color of the buildings. As a result, the constant use of local materials and
not having access to artificial colors produced urban settings with visual harmony.
Urban Colorscape in Four Scales
Moughtin, OC and Tiesdell [5] identified four different scales in which the color can
be seen in urban environment. These are as follows:
The scale of the city or of the district; the dominant color or colors can give
the city or district a distinctive identity. They can be considered as significant cultural
clues.
The scale of the street or square, where color can create various
characteristics or moods depending on adjacent buildings, and at street corners or on
diametrically opposed faades. The two most common urban spaces are the street
and square. The color scheme of the street or square may have a considerable effect
upon its character and appearance. It can contribute to the unity of the street or
square, or it may destroy that unity. In addition, the colors used in the street have in
themselves the ability to create character and mood. Taking the street for example, it
is possible to emphasize the wall planes of the street by painting them a light tone.
Alternatively the volume of the street can be emphasized by coloring the faades the
same tone as the dark pavement, or the length of the street could be emphasized by
horizontal strips along the faades. The street can also be broken down into units
with vertical bands of coloring.
The scale of the individual buildings, when developing a color scheme for a
building it must first be seen in its strategic relationship with its immediate
surroundings. The buildings visual function within the city or district should also be
established. For example is the building an important landmark or a closure to a
vista? Does the building lie upon an important path with a particular color coding?
Having decided the strategic requirements then the building itself can be examined.
The scale of details windows, shutters, ironwork, street furnishings. Details
are the final although not trivial constructional elements to receive consideration. The
three zones of the building, the base, the middle zone and the roof zone, together
with the relief and detailing make up the architectural treatment of the street. The
planes, projections and ornamental work can be emphasized to create a lively
pattern of decoration. In other areas where for strategic or master plan reasons the
street can be bland and unassuming then the difference in elements can be masked
by the subtle use of shades, tones or tints of the same color. Fig 3 is an outstanding
example of applying colors in the lowest level of urbanscape. The implied colorful
window was a common design for wealthy households in traditional architecture of
Shiraz, Iran.

Fig. 3. Colorful details of a window, Shiraz, Iran


Functions of Colors in Urban Setting
Color has varied functions in urban setting. Its presence sometimes stems from the
conscious manipulation of color as part of the architects design process but, more
often; it is applied as an afterthought in the form of protective or decorative skin.
Color pigment has in some cases been added to modern construction materials in an
attempt to integrate dominant man-made forms into their setting and sometimes been
used to make it more attractive and distinctive in its setting. The different functions of
color in urban context can be categorized as follow:
Color plays a significant role in our perception about the city- color as a
crucial element in creating the sense of place.
Human beings receive 80 percent of their information from the environment. Color
belongs to the environment and it is therefore a means of information and
communication of absolute necessity for the interpretation and understanding of the
environment. The perception of color in the environment always carries visual,
associative, synaethetic, symbolic, emotional and physiological effects with it.
To see color is a far deeper and more complex process than merely the optical
perception of these stimuli and the resulting physiological stimulation of sensory cells
in the cerebral cortex.
Color stimulation received from the exterior world corresponds with a reaction in the
inner world-our psyche. To perceive color means to experience, to become
conscious or aware. Multitude of factors works together in this process. Mahnke [6]
has summarized these factors in six factors which they form a pyramid.
Color perception and experience has got two main levels: level of information and
level of emotion. At the level of information colors gives us clues about our
surroundings and at emotional level they give us different feelings such as fear,
happiness, acceptance, rejection, surprise or sorrow.
Color in the built environment is the basic way to confer special identity to
place-color is a cultural marker- color as a language of the city.
Overtime, with repeated usage, certain color groups recur, becoming traditional
preference in human population. As it is said before in urban field, color is no longer
reflects personal choices, rather it confers special identity to place. Blue Jodhpure
can be considered as one of the remarkable instances. The widespread blue has
given unique identity to this old city of India (Fig 4).

Fig. 4. Jodhpur in Blue, Rajasthan, India


Color is considered as a basic element in city beautification-color as an
Aesthetics and decorative element.
Color is one the most effective methods of decorating the city. Except from the usage
of color in all aspects of the city, more particularly, wall paintings are the most
obvious examples of this function. Wall paintings are so diverse and convey variety
of messages.
There is no single movement directing this activity and the functions of murals are
as diverse as their settings. Some are painted in anger to protest against social and
environmental deprivation, while others lovingly celebrate local history or heroes, or
simply bring art in to public art [7].
Color can facilitate the integration of dominant man-made forms into their
settings-color as a unifying device/color attachment.
This particular function of attachment coloring is to blend objects into their
background and usually is titles as an environmental coloring. This approach
traditionally has been very common in traditional cities but the first case of
environmental coloring can be seen in Turin, Italy. At 1800, a Council of Builders was
set up to develop and apply a color plan for the entire city- a project which was to
establish environmental standards with surprisingly sophisticated specifications. The
basic scheme enlisted around eighty different colors all of them in yellow spectrum,
which were deployed to form a continuous and the same time changing progression
of experience. Although after 1978 a restoration programme was set up by Enzo Biffi
Gentili to break down the monochromic atmosphere of the city and more colors
added to the series of yellow colors [7].
An updated version of the research carried out by Turin, is found in France and done
by Philippe Lenclos. The project was a response to erection of new towns and it
aimed at developing a co-ordinated palette for application to modern architecture.
Precisely, the objective was to preserve the sense of place in the fact of the
spreading anonymity of concrete and to codify the language of environmental color.
The project consisted of three main phases:
1) At the first phase, big samples of the fragments of paint and material from walls,
roofs, doors, shutters together with natural parasites and rocks and earth and
vegetation collected from different regions of France.

2) At second phase, all samples were examined and translated into painted color
samples. These are then classified and regrouped to from the color map which
describes the color qualities of both a region and its architecture.
3) Phase three was the presentation of an applied color vocabulary appropriate to
each region.
Although at 1970s Professor A. C Hardy of Newcastle University in response to
emergence of eye-sore large-scale structures such as agricultural buildings, factories
in countryside settings came up with some environmental color investigation. The
objective of the project was to reduce the visual impact of large-scale man-made
structures by means of appropriate surface coloring. In Germany F. Garnier got the
idea and deployed it for several magnificence cases (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. An example of Garnier Work, Steel Factory, Dortmund, Germany


Color can attract the eye to features consider worthy of attention-color
detachment.
Color detachment occurs when color is used to celebrate architecture and intensify
our experience of it. It is active rather than passive.
Here color is used sculpturally in order to underline architectural expression for its
own sake, or it is selectively deployed to attract the eye to features considered
worthy of such attention the idea of strong colors is to target forms against neutral
backgrounds [7].
The concept of detachment according to Porter [7] usually follows the designers
desire to create a new atmosphere with color, a bright scheme tending to express
architectural diversity, gaiety and excitement. By rejecting conformity to setting, this
approach seeks to express the essential character of the building.
Color is used to discriminate different materials, to define form and volume. This has
been the common theme of some popular architects and designers as Le Corbusier,
Marcel Breuer and Norman Foster in their works (Fig. 6 and Fig. 7).

Fig. 6. Le Cour Busier work of art, unite d'habitation, Marseille, France

Fig. 7. Marcel Breuer work of art, Shelter Island, New York


Conclusion
Urban colorscape directly reflects the urban history and overall design style of the
town. It is an urban feature and an important component of urban charm. It is also a
symbol of urban character. Urban colorscape is not only related to the urban external
image, but also affects the environmental quality of public space. It fully reflects the
social civilization and development. Color is a significant part of the urban beauty,
and it is a factor which influences urban life quality. Color itself is an urban historical
heritage. Urban politics, economy and culture are reflected by some kinds of color.
With respect to all these aspects of color in the urban setting, urban designers and
planners should attach more importance to the domain of urban colorscape. But
doing so, they would encounter another challenge which is there is no simple formula
for using color. Work done in analyzing, codifying and developing color systems
provides no sure success for an exciting and harmonious use of color in the
environment. Although there are some principles, if taken into account, might help us
in developing more attractive and harmonious colorscape. Considering the
outstanding beauty of nature and colors of the nature, continuing urban colorscape
history and considering the functions of each district in the whole town are just some
of these clues which can help us in choosing and applying the most proper

colorscpae. Planners and designer in proposing color plan for the city, first have to
set their goals for urban colorscape, investigate the trends of colors in their while
being aware of the effects and characteristics of colors. Finally, we have to stick in
our mind that, we are not able to inject the same color palette to the all aspects and
districts of current modern and multifunctional cities. In other words, there is no need
to change the color of every feature in urban settings.
References
[1] Meerwein. G, Mahnke.
Berlin:Birkhouser, 2007.

F.

Color-Communication

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[2] Swirnoff. L. The Color of The Cities. An International Perspective. London: Mcgrow-Hill.
2000.
[3] Xiaomin, D. Urban Colourscape, Planning A Colour Study Of The Architecture Of
Karlskrona. Unpublished Thesis. Sweden Blekinge Institute Of Technology. 2009.
[4] Porter, T. Color Outside. London. The Architectural Press. 1982.
[5] Moughtin, Oc And Tiesdell . Urban Design; Ornement And Decoration. London. The
Architectural Press. 1999
[6] Mahnke, F. Color, Environment and Human Response. New York: John Wiley & Sons,
Inc, 1996.
[7] Porter. T, Mikellides. B. Color for Architecture. London: Studio Vista. 1977.