Testing Goethe's theory of colours

Friday 28 Oct 2011

Elenberg Fraser explore the sensory effects of colour rather than symbolic representation

Elenberg Fraser were approached in early 2007 by an existing client and given the brief to develop a residential tower in the academic precinct in Melbourne with compact apartments to cater for the urban young professional market.

Sitting on a 900 sq m block, A'Beckett Tower is a prototype for high-density residual infill. The building form follows the podium and tower model with a non-traditionally treated podium. A thin veneer of apartments lines the carpark, which is accessed via elevators for cars, liberating the podium facade from cars and ramps and presenting an active residential layer to the city.

With 347 north facing sunshade louvres in 16 different colours, you could be forgiven for thinking the architects were engaging with the rich local architectural context. Au contraire, they are actually exploring the sensory effects of colour, rather than symbolic representation, by testing Goethe's Theory of Colours.

The architects are interested in how the body reacts and processes the blended and indistinct colour field, rather than what meaning the mind attaches to discrete coloured elements. Ironically, given the sunshades function to block heat from the building, the palette for the louvres was inspired by Australia's - up until recently drought-stricken - landscape.

Even while La Niña (over) nourishes the parched soil, the building is a reminder of the area's environmental history, and potentially its future. Goethe's theory asserts that colour is a phenomenon that exists at the edge of light and dark - as you walk around A'Beckett, the black map of the sunshades opens up to the colour field, fading into light.

This is architecture in the round, experienced cinematically as you view it from different angles. At the same time the building can be read as a whole, the detailing of the sunshades re-scaling it down to industrial design; the city is about what things are and how they're made. At times the sunshades appear to be falling off the building, forming a nap and grain from both the interior and exterior.

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