The future's bright

10 Oct 2011

Trend analysts reveal the colour palettes that define the future of architecture

To the question ‘what colour is the future?’ you might expect an abstract response. But according to Akzo Nobel’s colour trend team, there is a simple answer.

As the largest manufacturer of its kind in the world, Akzo Nobel are the international authority on how and why colour is used across all fields of design and architecture. With an in-depth knowledge of colour formulas and design principles, the company have a complex understanding of how colour works, and hence how it can be used to its utmost potential.

Unequivocally, colour has a profound effect upon our lives. The human eye can identify around 100 million different colours and we encounter them daily, whether consciously or not. They influence our mood, our energy and our productiveness; colour alone can completely transform a space. It is little surprise, then, that we are witnessing a revival of colour in architecture during a period of financial gloom. Per Nimer, architect and design manager at Akzo Nobel’s Aesthetic Centre, says: “For the last 50 or so years, large-scale architecture has been about material with little or no colour applied - except for a brief period of post-modernism. In the last few years we have seen a rise in colour use in architecture, which serves as a very potent differentiating factor in showcasing buildings. It is as if the iconic, complex architecture of recent years has freed the minds of many architects to begin to include colour.”

But how and why certain colours are chosen by architects is a delicate process that often involves weighty research. As Nimer points out, the same colour in different contexts can completely change its meaning, so the choice of colour in a building is one of paramount importance.

Now in its twelfth year, Akzo Nobel’s Colour Futures is a publication compiled annually by a different group of international experts from the worlds of architecture, design and fashion, to reveal and rationalise the colour trends of the future. Bringing together their diverse cultural influences, each group shares a truly representative insight into the colours that echo the wider social and cultural trends that will epitomise the year ahead.

In a recent presentation in London, UK, Nimer divulged the colour palettes chosen for 2012 which derive from five distinct themes, or mini-trends. Each reflect a different cultural trajectory, but all inevitably stem from the overarching issues of the moment: the recession and environmental sustainability.

The first mini-trend is described as ‘Delicate Mix’. At its core is the notion that good design often comes out of a recession, for the very reason that materials, aesthetics and function have to be long-lasting - products need a ‘visual and qualitative lasting impact’. Hence, according to Colour Futures, longevity is the new luxury, with a correspondingly harmonious and understated colour palette.

A sense of purity, directness and honesty is central to this trend, and this is reflected in a variety of visual forms. Perforation has been particularly widely used across the fields of product design, fashion and architecture, as the ability to quite literally see through an object conveys a metaphorical sense of honesty, evoking the ideal of a more transparent society. Its manifestation in architecture has certainly been apparent in recent years, with heavily perforated facades featuring in buildings such as Nieto Sobejano’s Museum of San Telmo, Enota’s Podčetrtek Sports Hall and Rojkind Arquitectos’ Cineteca Nacional del Siglo XXI.

Yellow-spectrum, photosynthetic colours are borne of the ‘One Small Seed’ theme, which encompasses the development of the ‘eco’ trend. In a reversal of the 1970s ‘going back to nature’ mentality, the current trend instead revolves around bringing nature inside, exemplified by SANAA architects’ ‘garden with a house’. Blurring inside and outside, window frames are becoming thinner and natural settings are becoming more prevalent in interior design. Significantly, eco products are becoming more personalised and less ‘eco visual’, as the ‘brown string’ aesthetic starts shifting towards a more sophisticated approach to environmentally-friendly design.

Reactions to the structure-less mass of information available to us through the Internet is brought to the fore in the idea of the ‘Living Scrapbook’, in which the focus lies on a return to storytelling, collecting and individual innovation. With DIY becoming MIY - make it yourself - decoration and attention to detail in architecture and design is becoming a ubiquitous feature.

Technological progression is another key element highlighted by Nimer, but with a focus on its ability to stimulate the mind and open up new perceptions of the world. Entitled ‘Different Worlds’, this trend is about playfulness and alternative realities, creating illusions and manipulating our perception of spaces. In terms of architecture, this has been emerging in the form of pixelated facades for some time, but it is now moving into the realm of interior design. Colours are dreamy, surreal purples and blues, while spaces are divided using coloured stripes, altering the perception and experience of the space by splitting walls into Mondrian-esque sections.

On a more practical level, the ‘Rediscovered Heroes’ trend celebrates the genius of everyday objects. Archaic techniques and technology are remembered and adapted and, as recycling gives way to re-using, known objects are given a new use in this rise of the ‘super-normal.’ This theme manifests itself in a palette of industrial, robust and simple colours.

The use of colour in architecture is growing on a global level. It is, after all, a relatively easy, inexpensive and accessible way to instantly transform a facade or interior space. As buildings in developing countries around the world are being re-built with colour, it is also becoming synonymous with an increase in ‘ethical architecture’ projects, and its broadened use signifies a multi-cultural, all-encompassing, global approach.

While numerous colours emerge from the five select palettes that Colour Futures presents, there is one that surmounts the rest for 2012; a ‘blushing, lively, juicy red.’ Reminiscent of vitality and new beginnings, this is the colour of the next stage in the recessional era - of exciting possibilities emerging out of a crisis. Put simply, the future is red.

Amy Knight

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