I was once told by a professor, “never make a building the same color as the sky.” It makes sense that a house should have presence, weight, and harmonious contrast with its setting. But for an imposing skyscraper, it may be best to dematerialize. If not for the dark cut-out near its peak, Philadelphia’s Comcast Center would vanish into the clouds.
Architects use color as a pillar of design. Certain tones have deep, visceral effects on our mood, that are similar across cultures. Color theory is a philosophy unto itself. Color is symbolic. Babylon’s Ishtar Gate was covered in deep blue glazed brick, which simulated lapis lazuli. This precious stone is native to Afghanistan and was treasured around the ancient world – the ultimate symbol of wealth, power, and reverence for the goddess Ishtar. The pigment Ultramarine is made from crushed lapis lazuli and was treated with similar adulation among painters.
In a practical sense, color defines character, and can transform a blank wall into a feature. Dark colors are known to visually shrink a room, while lighter colors make it appear more generous. To show off a space’s complexity, white is an appropriate choice; we can better appreciate the play of shadow on form. Francesco Borromini mastered this contraposition in Chiesa San Carlino‘s interior. Any color can be right, so long as we use it with intent.