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Annotated Terms
This glossary was originally compiled by Lucia Ronchi in 2002, with contributions of definitions by various members of the Environmental Colour Design Study Group of the International Colour Association.

We will create an extended version here.

work in progress

Accent lighting
Accent lighting aims at highlighting particular features, by counteracting uniformity. For instance, decorative luminaries may be used as accent lighting, rather than to illuminate a particular feature, by producing, for instance, a creative sparkle without causing glare.

Achromatic colors
Colorless. A color without hue and saturation.

Account Color Codification System (ACC)
A Dutch color notation system, developed by Azlo Coatings’ colorists, published in 1978. Colors are classified according to three attributes: hue, saturation and lightness, and represented in a cylindrical space.

Advancing colors
In color design for interior and urban spaces there are some hues that seem to have the property of bringing surfaces to one’s eye. They are the yellows, orange and reds, colors on the long wavelength of the spectrum, also called “warm colors”.

Aesthetic choice of colors
Color information of aesthetic content is mostly emotional. It is based on specific relationships between the attributes of color, to create the impression of order, quiet, harmony, etc. Such relationships are widely documented by color combinations in design, architecture, home decoration, art, and so on.

Amenity and environment
The improvement of the visual environment requires, first of all, the elimination of disorder, which includes sound noise, unpleasant smelling and color noise. The improvement is to be performed by taking into account the activities of the town, the locality, the traditions, the traffic signs, the information sign advertisement, the street furniture, and so on.

Amenity lighting
Opposed to conventional lighting, the amenity lighting aims at adding pleasantness, decorativeness and ambience to the environment, by upgrading it.

Analogous colors
Those hues that are closely related, on the color wheel, such as, for instance, red, red-orange, orange-yellow.

Architectural image
By definition, it is the result of association related to color and to color combinations, in particular, being the “identification” connected to orientation. In other terms, the “total color image” is a triunity of the functions of color: communicative, cognitive, expressive, and of their combinations, cognitive-expressive and expressive-cognitive. Within the triunity there is a hierarchy of the functions, which: a) synthesizes the range of color images, b) formulates the principles of color designation.

Architecture and lighting
City architects, protectors of historical monuments, lighting engineers, are called to cooperate to plan the lighting of architectural items, in a complex context, where the random order light is confronted with the organized power of the design, the uniform at most, and hence monotonous public lighting, the traffic signs, the new dynamic advertisements, etc.

The activity of organizing and directing the complex, the material, the mental and social process of space formation.

Architectural language of color
Originated in nature, colors on building initially depended on materials found in the landscape. Colors are used to enhance a building’s accessibility, by emphasizing the figurative content (by deliberately evoking certain materials, by representing a familiar frame of reference, etc.), by articulating the organization of a building’s composition, by underscoring the narrative of its design. Color may emphasize the structure of a building in various ways: a) medium saturated shades suit enhancing courses and levels; b) color emphasis of functional structures lends stability to the appearance of a building; c) coloration of parapets, balconies etc. leads to the division of the façade (into horizontal, vertical, diagonal directions). Color stresses architectonic features, or emphasizes or subdues the rhythms (e.g. of a row of windows). For instance, courses may be given several different tones; walls and courses need not to be the same hue, but all courses should be in residential areas, communal buildings should be distinguished by their color from living quarters a connecting color of a rather dull tone, rhythmically repeated both on residential houses and communal buildings, allows a logical reading of the considered urban context in a building; cold hues (blues, greens) should be used on the elevation outside the building, while warm hues (orange, reds) should be applied on the partitions inside.

Attraction of attention of color
A group of colors attracts attention when it excels by regularity and when its structure is well recognizable.

A multiplex leisure center at Strasbourg, where Stijl’s avant-garde theories about color in architecture and interior spaces were materialized. The “Cabaret Aubette Bar”, designed by Hans Harp, Sophie Tauber and Theo van Doesburg, had five indoor plants.

Background classification (according to complexity)
Factor analysis may be associated in main components and hierarchical ascending classification. Three main degrees are currently used: low, medium, high. In turn, the hierarchical tree is found to imply two to five classes, each divided into two parts.

Background complexity
The sources of complexity, as far as the background is concerned, are numerous. Their list includes: luminance heterogeneity, spatial information, spatial patterning, etc.

Basic color terms
This expression was first used by Brent Berlin and Paul Kay in 1969, and subsequently utilized and developed in the framework “categorical naming of colors” and “color categorization”. See: Berlin, Brent, and Paul Kay. 1969. Basic color terms; their universality and evolution (Berkeley, California: University of California Press).

School of industrial design, flourished in Germany from 1919 to 1933, established by Walter Gropius, who intended to unite all the arts under the auspices of architecture, and to explore new possibilities in the relation between art and design and industrial mass production. The Bauhaus covers names like Itten, Klee, and Kandinsky. The attitudes toward color in the Bauhaus were: a) A subjectivist approach. b) Under the predominant influence of a constructivism, color was considered more as a material than as a sequence of psychological effects. c) In the twenties and early thirties, the Bauhaus was particularly successful in disseminating a utilitarian aesthetic, stressing the functionalism, while minimizing the use of overt color, and focusing, instead, the colors of architectural materials. For the first time, concrete was treated as worthy to be used unadorned. Purely formal buildings replaced the elaborate façades of the late 19th and first years of the 20th century.

Name given to a primary color corresponding to visible radiation in the wavelength range 460-482 nanometers.

The principle of camouflaging can be extended to architecture in various ways, some of which are: a) by using squares and rectangles of varying degrees of lightness and darkness; b) by adding blue to suggest distance; c) for some buildings the problem is complicated by different functions housed in different masses to be coordinated with one another; d) also the correlation with the surrounding landscape is important, for instance, by relating the prevailing colors to the sky, sea, land; e) by keeping into account the pollution of the atmosphere; f) by using distractive colors; g) by giving the sensation of depth, etc.

Casa Rosada (Buenos Aires)
The government building of Argentina, where the office of the President is located. The pink color (“rosado”) was agreed in the middle of the 19th century, and comes from the mixture of red (which was the color of the Federalists) and white (which was the color of the Unitarians), as a kind of reconciliation between both antagonistic parties, and with the aim of giving representativeness to both political ideas.

Categories of colors used in architecture
Their list includes: a) color as an active element, in the form of an applied finish (e.g. paint, pigmented white wash, metal or stone inlays, decorative brickwork, ceramic, glass), intending to enhance the appearance of a building; b) color for a more passive or neutral use, being color derived from the natural tones of the constructive material themselves; c) colors determined by the site conditions (climate, lighting, cultural and aesthetic aspiration of buildings).

Cathedral of Commerce
Glamorously decorated skyscrapers, with their costly, labor-intensive and glazed tiles (USA, 1929).

Term invented around 1980 by César Jannello, to designate the perception of the different spatial distributions of light. Cesia encompass all the visual sensations going from transparency to translucency, lightness to darkness, and matte opacity to mirrorlike appearance (passing through glossy appearance). Cesia is related to color, in the sense that both are different aspects of the perception of light, and color deals also with lightness and darkness. But there are aspects that cannot be described by the three classical color dimensions of hue, lightness, and saturation. In this sense, cesia constitutes a category that can be added to the traditional categories of color, texture, and form, in order to extend the possibilities of describing and classifying visual appearance. Three dimensions or variables can define cesia, with respect to the perception of how light interact with the objects around: permeability (from opaque to transparent), absorption (from light to dark), and diffusivity (from regular to diffuse). When Ludwig Wittgenstein, in his Remarks on Color, is concerned with the different types of white, yellow and golden, gray and silver, “black” mirrors, etc., and when he says, “Opaqueness is not a property of the white color. Any more than transparency is a property of the green”, he is dealing, in reality, with cesia. For more details, see the following articles by José Luis Caivano: “Cesia: A system of visual signs complementing color”, Color Research and Application 16 (4), 1991, 258-268; “Appearance (cesia): Variables, scales, solid”, in AIC Color 93, Proceedings of the 7th Congress, vol. B (Budapest: Hungarian National Color Committee, 1993), 89-93; reprinted in Die Farbe 39 (1/6), 1993, 115-125; “Appearance (cesia): Construction of scales by means of spinning disks”, Color Research and Application 19 (5), 1994, 351-362. “Cesia: Its relation to color in terms of the trichromatic theory”, Die Farbe 42 (1/3), 1996, 51-63. “Semiotics and cesia: Meanings of the spatial distribution of light”, in Color and Psychology. From AIC Interim Meeting 96 in Gothenburg (Stockholm: Scandinavian Color Institute, 1997), 136-140. “An atlas of cesia with physical samples”, in AIC Color 97, Proceedings of the 8th Congress, vol. I (Kyoto: Color Science Association of Japan, 1997), 499-502.

Chevreul, Michel-Eugène (1786-1889)
French chemist, who had achieved a great number of studies about color rudiments and textile coloration process. Most of them are collected in his books Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Color (1839), and Des Couleurs et leurs Applications aux Arts Industriels (1864).

Chromatic information
The information content conveyed by a color message is transmitted by highlighting, contracting, grouping and omitting. Distinction is to be made between logic information (e.g., based on standardized codes), and aesthetic information.

Chromatic symbolism
Depending on cultural or anthropological factors, colors are conventionally linked to different ideas or states of mind. Our environmental color perception may be upset by the symbolism we emotionally attribute to the different colors and their combinations.

Chromatic synesthesia
Synesthesia means “interaction among various senses”. Son et lumière is a known example. Briefly, the impression of a certain color may be altered and even biased by sensations of different perceptual nature. The matter is of interest in the framework of color design, when the appearance of the environment is to be evaluated “globally”. For instance, in very noisy industrial environments it seems recommendable to avoid “visual crowding”, by reducing the number of colors.

Color abstraction
A trend that, since 1910, tends to intensify the expressiveness of color against its decorative qualities.

Color and city design
This topic is very wide, and is codified by numerous general rules. Among these, for instance, let us recall: It is imperative to ensure the legibility of the image of the city. Focal points are to be properly evidenced, even by using the color in a competitive way, say: by shifting the relative prominence of the sites of the buildings, by manipulating the inherent morphological hierarchy in favor of some arbitrary part of it, by utilizing the advertising, by considering them as architectural forms (in a limiting case, the building itself may become an advertisement), at night, the architectural form may be completely dissolved in a struggle of competitive colors (recall Piccadilly Circus in London, the “stripe” at Las Vegas, Asakusa in Tokyo, etc.). Nowadays color is regarded as an expression of the underlying rules that govern the way buildings relate to one another in the city as a whole, and the social and economic patterns they accommodate. Color works alongside form as another system of expression, which may complement and reinforce the formal reading of the city, but may also act as a counterpart or even contradict those readings. The ways in which color, as a systematic expression of buildings in an urban context, may do this rely upon the ways in which the color and form relate to one another. They are at least three: Color is a basic characteristic and establishes the visual coherence and unity of the city. The ranges of hue and “value” are to be properly manipulated. In turn, the form concerns the building height, the shape of the blocks, the windows patterns, etc. The landmark buildings form a contrast with the remaining fabric of the city, so that they should be either white or of more intense hue. Color acts as a mean of articulating the structure of the city, as well as a mean of identifying its districts, edges, modes, routes and landmarks. The form results in a variegated set of profiles (domes, towered, etc.). Color, alongside forms, acts in two roles: as a symbolic system, emphasizing the significance of important public elements of the city, as a navigational system, to orient people within it, to give the city legibility, by establishing the hierarchy of its parts, by creating the sense of place. Color reinforces the form, as an expression of the coherence of the image of the city, as a means of articulating its parts. But color can work in contrast with form, by overlying multiple meanings in the city, even by creating ambiguity and plurality of meaning.

Color and conceptualization of the environment
Connection established through dimensions, proportions, orientation, intellectual and cultural enrichment.

Color and environment
Color sensations and judgments depend on the environment. Color may dampen or enhance the influences on man. Color may protect man from hazards. Color modifies the spatial position of planes and of masses. Distinction is to be made between the color of space elements and that of objects. Color, as related to form, structure and function, should be considered for both, close and far environment in the building.

Color and mass perception
The influence of color on the perception of the masses is of special importance in the color design of streetscape and townscape complexes. For instance, the appearance of a building having the skyline as background is modified, according to whether the sky is fair or gray overcast. Building components (courses, pillars, doors, windows), in addition to functions, carry aesthetic messages, both being expressed by colors (by manipulating hue, saturation, lightness). Moreover, the appearance of colored surfaces is affected by surface texture of the underlying materials.

Color and urban spaces
a) City at night: According to a view, now obsolete, buildings should be only “seen” under daylight; at night, they should “disappear” in the darkness, since artificial lights distorts their appearance. Nowadays, an alternative view is popular: lighting should contribute to the development of a more general appreciation of the nighttime, even by creating new sceneries. b) City lighting plans: (people interested in): Their list includes: lighting engineers, lighting designers, town planners, government, lighting manufacturers, building owners, etc. c) City lighting plans: (philosophy of): The plan of city lighting might imply three steps: 1st: looking at the cityscape, 2nd: to formulate a structure for integrating all forms of exterior lighting, 3rd: to include the human dimension by: reducing light pollution, creating a pleasant and attractive night time through amenity lighting, creating a coherent visual environment.

Color appearance and luminance level

Color appearance and spectral composition of lighting

Color appearance

Color as distancing device
Color complements other distancing devices such as texture, reflectivity, patterns and contrasting plan geometry. Color tone will influence people to move away a dark door toward a lighter door into an adjoining space. Color tone will influence people to move toward a warm appearing space (lighted, say, with lamps of 3000K) in a cold climate and seek out a cooler looking space (e.g. lighted with 4000 K or higher), in a hot climate.

Color associated with dwellings
Some agreements, based on social, environmental and local considerations, resulted in the use of the following colors: a tone of gray (limestone, granite), red (sandstone, brick), painted mud and wood surface, brown, yellows and red, as man-imposed colors.

Color association in architecture
No formula exists for color association, in architecture. However, some concepts are familiar in the architectural language, such as “anchoring”, “stabilizing structural elements” and similar. In particular, it is often asserted that “a pale blue gray identifies the part of the structure nearest to the sky”, etc.

Color association
One of the intuitive elements of creative activity.

Color code
Conventional terminology to objectively identify different colors in environmental design.

Color combinations (a model of)
In practice, colors never appear alone, but in combination. There are millions of billions of possible combinations. The question arises how they can be meaningfully described. For instance, a distinction might be made in aesthetical versus non-aesthetical terms, and so on. Now, many words describe color and color meaning. The color associated words may concern both isolated colors and colors in combination. Lars Sivik (Sweden) has performed a factor analysis to obtain grouping of words that would give an idea about synonyms and antonyms, respectively. The analytic solution which represents the basis of the model yields five factors or dimensions, each having two opposite poles: a) evaluation (beautiful versus ugly), b) articulation (distinct versus colorless), c) brightness (light versus dark), d) temperature (warm versus cold), e) commonness (boring versus flowing).

Color communication
Color invites the viewer participation by communicating something basic about building materials, by suggesting architecture’s metaphoric properties and by articulating the narrative content of a building’s design. The same architectural forms and materials, through color, are allowed to take on multiple interpretations. The articulation of color brings form and material into a meaningful dialogue. The communicative potential of exterior color is widely recognized. When used for decoration, color is an important tool, to enliven a surface, to define space and form, to give information, at a visual and symbolic level, about the purpose of the building.

Color demands for buildings
Such demands have to be determined in four categories: 1) color may modify space effect, causing it to appear closed, open, properly confused, arranged; 2) color may modify the perceived volume of a room, its height, its depth; 3) color may serve to highlight or to conceal the structure of a building; 4) color may emphasize the style of the building or else, e.g., making it to appear built in another style.

Color design
Started as free hand drawing, it became mechanical, passed to model making, to photography, to 3-D representation, to computerized representation, and, recently, to virtual reality imagery, flanked by photo-cinema techniques, hard copy in color, dynamic modeling, simulation of interaction of environmental colors with space and light. Color design involves a parallel analysis of architectural, functional, human and illumination-related data. More precisely, data requirements involve: environmental analysis, space ratio analysis, form analysis, emphasis analysis.

Color dynamics
Multidisciplinary study of the environmental impact of colors, on the basis of the inter-relation between man, environment and color. A relatively new science, concerned with the relations between the appearances of the surfaces of the environment, from the standpoint of man, living in it. The term “color dynamics” emerged in the forties, but it has been generalized in the sixties by Frieling, Birren and Déribéré. It has risen to the academic level by Antal Nemcsics, as indicated in his book (Color Dynamics, Budapest, Akadémiai Kiadó, 1993), where the results of his numerous experiments are reported. Color dynamics implies the coloring of the workplace environment taking various psychophysical and psychosomatic effects into consideration, such as tiring, mental and bodily concentration, ability, performance. It is associated with ergonomics, by considering the functions of the whole space, rather than of the workplace only. More saturated colors, with longer dominant wavelengths, act dynamically, hence they suit to express functions involving dynamism. The lower the saturation, the less the dynamism. The greater the hue, saturation and lightness differences between the members of color complexes, the more dynamic the function the express is. Intensity and expression of function is more affected by variation of lightness differences than by variations of saturation differences.

Color field
Abstract art style initiated in Washington by 1960. Color was the predominant factor for the followers of this movement, including Kenneth Noland.

Color for the landscape architect
The keystones of the use of color, on the part of the landscape architect, include: a) the principles of aerial perspective (blueness at distance); b) the recessive blue-green foliage; c) the use of warm and cool colors to manipulate the space in the garden; d) the use of blues in dim light, by minding the Purkinje shift; e) in matter of color of the buildings, it should not be forgotten that: the majority of building colors are warm, blue is unusual, the variants of reds change the “temperature” of the considered area, for instance, with cooler surrounding buildings.

Color in architecture
Colors and color groups attract our attention when they are clear-cut and their structure is very intelligible. The list of their “actions” is very long: act as an element of division, achieve general harmony, destroy or emphasize, divide, reinforce, contrast, dematerialize, mediate, act as a sign or signal, act as a symbol, act as an artistic medium.

Color in Multan architecture
The architectural tradition of Multan is strongly based on the exclusive use of blue glazed ceramic tiles in exterior and interior finishing of buildings. The choice of blue colors is due to aesthetic, mystic, symbolic values. Blue is associated to king, nobles, saints. Moreover, blue neutralizes the hot. The Royal Blue is related to elegance, delicacy, and dignity, the Navy Blue, to strength and power. In the religious buildings, blue is associated to nobility, truth and fidelity. Evolved during the Sassanid period in Persia, blue was derived from precious stones and from the daytime color of the sky. Distinction is currently made between the cobalt blue (highly brilliant, representing an appeal to the sun); indigo blue; turquoise (rather pale and representing appeal to the moon). At last, buildings seem to blend with the sky, being pyramids. In turn, brick tiles (a basic building material of Multan architecture) reflect red and yellow hues, in harmony with all earthy brown colors.

Color in space and “atmosphere”
In some countries (e.g. Finland, Scandinavia), people still like to have a strict connection with nature and its life. Indeed, nature is variable in its coloring: winter is white, spring is light green, summer is green, autumn is yellow, orange, red, brown, evergreen. By planning an interior, the elements of the colors in nature are brought inside, in harmony with the variable blue and green colors of the nature seen through the windows. The outdoor-indoor transition should be gradual: a) in the entrance, marble creates a connection with the stone and sand in the landscape; b) in the lobby or main hall, carpets may create a peaceful connection with outer landscape and inner space (as an aside, blue is believed to protect against insects and against all bad); c) inside, yellow and brown tones give warmth and create a pleasant atmosphere.

Color key
see “color code”.

Color Marketing Group
An international association of professional people involved in the use of color as it applies to the marketing of products and services. These include: residential, commercial and consumer products, transportation, architectural/building products, communication/graphics, fashion, recreational retail, hospitality, offices and health care environments. Since its foundation, in 1962, it provides a communication forum for all phases of color marketing including color design trends, styling and combinations, influences and technical research that affects color development and color education.

Color noise
see “color code”.

Color objectives
Color is working in several ways at once. On one side, the use of color is subjective and simplistic. On the other side, the color objectives may range from suppression to the fullest color expression. The most common objective is the use of color in immediate surrounding for identity (e.g. by painting the front door of the façade). The careless interruption of the architectural unity of terraces and streets can destroy the unity of the street itself. By considering the tradition, the use if color becomes “dogmatic”, however, tradition may change and develop. In a population, there are many individuals with their own tasks and desires for self-expression.

Color order systems
A way of codifying color, establishing a rationale description of their attributes of hue, saturation and lightness. Color order systems are essentials to those professionals working in environmental color design and consultancy.

Color scheme
A careful choice of colors composed into a color plan and carefully constructed by color designers, to be schematically applied to the environment. With the help of a color scheme, color applicators can easily interpret the arrangement of color settled by the color plan.

Color terminology for architects
Architects are one of the major groups of potential users of color order systems, not necessarily expert in matter of theoretical issues of color. However, confusion in the adopted magnitude still exists. The question “how architects conceive color” has not yet received the proper answer.

A tool of space formation, able to devastate, build-up or modulate the space. Color can express both the function and the constructive elements, and, visually, it can express the constructive system as a whole.

Coloring the environment (effects of)
This item is a complex one. The list of possible effects includes: limbic satisfaction, aesthetic implication, exteriorizing emotions (giving color the central role), mere prettyfication of buildings, production of visual Gestalten, relegating to the background what is not important, reaching a dialectic balance between reason and emotion.

Colors for outdoor painting
In contrast to interior color design, in exterior color design surrounding colors. Should always be taken into account, that is, the colors of other buildings and the natural colors. The colors of the nowadays available paints are very numerous: they cover the whole range of dull yellow, red, brown, yellowish and grays, and are to be chosen according to their price and durability. The natural earth pigments, since the middle of the 19th century, have been replaced by their synthetic equivalents (very durable and cheap), named, for instance, ochres, umbres, terra di Siena, yellow oxide, red oxide, etc. In particular, the dull green pigment named green oxide of chromium, which has good durability and moderate price, has had a dominant influence in Sweden on exterior green colors, for more than one hundred years. Blue is an unusual color on façades, not last because the few blue pigments with good durability are very expensive.

Colors for protection
In residential architecture color has a functional role, which depends on the geographical location and on its implications. For instance: Mediterranean people need that their houses reflect the heat of the sun, the American colonists used oil paint to protect their wooden buildings from the natural elements, or they used deep red, a popular barn color to preserve the heating, or even for camouflaging purposes. However, much depended on the availability and suitability of pigments, in any given location.

Comfort (in the visual environment)

Compensation for harmful environmental effects
Psychological and psychosomatic effects of colors may help to increase or reduce perceptions elicited by stimuli on different organs. Environmental color design may contribute to compensate for various harmful environmental effects (e.g. dry or moist heat). Dry heat is best offset by blue and bluish greens. Moist heat is best offset by orange and red. In hot surrounding saturated or dark colors are unpleasant, while unsaturated or light colors are favorable. Colors may compensate for noise and smells.

Comprehension and enjoyment of environment
A sensory experience where color involves mental, physiological and emotional reactions.

Conspicuity (factors favoring)
Their list includes: increasing angular size, decreasing eccentricity, increasing contrast with the immediate backgrounds (color contrast being less important than luminance contrast), assigning forms under-represented in the scene.

Conspicuity and complexity
Signal conspicuity decreases against a complex background. This may be a drawback, for instance, for the motorists to detect indices of significance. Urban night scenes are very complex because of the diversity of forms, size, luminance and color of the objects making up the environment.

A property of a target to stand out within a complex environment.

Followers of a movement encouraging the use of color to emphasize the function and to distinguish the movable parts (e.g. the doors).

Contrast effects
Brighter lighting can enhance or even eclipse adjacent lighting. However, often, the commercial instincts are in favor of bringing attention to a specific building or similar, without considering the consequent detrimental effects.

Crystal Palace
A prototype of the new “machine age” architecture, often based on “unusual scientific themes”.

Cyclical trends in the use of color
Environmental color in design circles recurs in a cyclical fashion. Pure bright hues are used at the high points in art and culture. Dull, muted colors, on the other hand, parallel periods of decline. One of such cycles emerged when, after the Industrial Revolution, the polychromaticity of Léger and Vasarely was flanked by Russian’s colored stones. Another cycle emerged when the use of environmental color was a part of Art Deco style. In the mid seventies, color was used to code the exposed structural components of a high technological architecture. In France, Jean-Philippe Lenclos, in the face of proliferation of synthetic and imported building materials, has attempted to codify the diversity of traditional color patterns. In Italy, Giovanni Brino has identified the urban “color maps”, raising the question “should this system be frozen in time”? After Tom Porter, in the United Kingdom, the concept of color cannot be detached from an understanding of space: our experience of color is modified by a supplementary experience of light, texture and form.

Decorative lighting
“Decorative” means giving character to the night and the city, without interfering negatively with business and traffic aspects. One of the tasks of decorative lighting consists in creating a harmonic ensemble, through color effects, lighting style and appropriate luminance distribution. In turn, the decorative aspect of color might be defined as “a pure local significance”.

Dematerializing of building
Diminishing any perception of its massive weight, and make it appear fragile.

Directional characteristics (of color combinations)
Color may indicate important points. A long wall of ceiling can be systematically divided into areas of changing color. Color may accompany the movement and may lead towards the goal. Colored areas lead towards movement and shorten the path mentally. Color makes more interesting a repeating element along the road.

Non-target elements, in a visual search task.

Dynamic situations underlying public lighting
The list included: modernization, development of techniques, nostalgia of public lighting, historical character, and decorative lighting systems.

Empty field (Ganzfeld)

Environmental color composition
In many town and cities around the world, considerable color consistency exists, ranging from brilliant color settlements, to the color representing a given family, from individual expression to the “need for change”, to the restoration requirements, to the carefully calculated color decoration, to the intrusive color of signs and advertisements.

Environmental color
The color of a total space, composed by the combination of visual elements.

Environmental components and color treatment
The list includes: form, geometry, texture, characteristics of materials, spatial disposition, and function.

Environmental design research
This multidisciplinary research field focuses on the interdependence of physical environment and human beings, at all scales. The goal consists in improving the quality of life, by increasing the correspondence between human and environmental factors. Since 1950, an ecological approach in environmental design has been developing.

Ergonomics and color
The ergonomic use of colors is related to the human factors in the environment. For instance, it concerns the coloration of machines, the safety, the informational signals, and so on.

Façade articulation
In a façade the location of color has formal logic. The placement of color reinforces our reading of a building design: by articulating certain elements, by organizing them for a viewer. In figurative architecture, the tripartite composition is of basic importance. For instance: green or gray-green may be used at the base or foot, terra cotta may be used for the middle of the body, a more ephemeral color is suitable for the top or head. The color scheme reinforces the semantic understanding of the preliminary design. Depending on the richness of architecture, colors of either the walls of the façades, or of the courses, are responsible for the characteristics of the building. The façade coloration points out the coherence between functionally coherent building parts, visually emphasizing doors and windows of functional importance. Blue exterior paint is still a technical problem; cobalt blue is very expensive; phthalocyanine blue has a good durability; chalks and whites affect organic binders; this is a difficulty for the more chromatic and dark blue colors. Darkest colors are more suitable for window, doors, metal plate and other details.

A façade can be considered as a unit, and, at the same time, it can have variations created by means of color combinations. Dull nuances result in a dull total impression. The nuance realm may be emotionally loaded in different ways. The rules subserving the combinations of two or more colors resulting in the dichotomy “ugly versus beautiful” are still a matter of debate. The question “how the colors are connected to each other” still awaits the proper reply. This is the case also of “what is the best contrast” as referred to the lightness contrast (its maximum being the white-black combination) and to the “distances” between colors.

Factors creating emotional responses
The list includes: high chroma, high brightness, shine, glitter, symbolic meaning, associated meaning.


The function of the built environments is based on a special demand raised to a social level. Buildings with different functions (homes, hospitals, schools) exhibit different requirements at the site of color design. Colors may contribute to the utility function of a building in various ways: by producing psychosomatic effects meeting biological requirements, by increasing attention, by avoiding monotony, by decreasing a feeling of comfort. In the early literature various basic views are reported: form follows function, or better, the demand of function for the built environment; form has to adapt itself to the intended function of the building, and so on. The term “function” includes three components at least: the utility function (designation of the purpose of environmental elements), aesthetic, information. Color has to serve the expression of the complex function of environmental elements. Functionalism has been supported in the twenties by Le Corbusier and by the Bauhaus; in the thirties by Alberto Sartoris; in the fifties by Frank Lloyd Wright, who wrote: “ function is the inner, determinant side of the very nature of a given work”. A function is expressed not so much by a single color, but by a complex of several colors. The categorization of function based on activities concerns the following items: working places (color reduces confusion, by creating a structural order), community spaces (based on color formulation), living spaces, traffic spaces. The demands for “function” of color concern: aesthetics, information, labor safety, quality.

Geography of color
Pioneered by Jean-Philippe Lenclos, the geography of color is based upon the categories of universal color (rocks, soil, natural building materials, color applied in the form of paints, plastics, vegetable colors).

Gestalt (architectural)
A polychromatic architectural design does not aim at an increased use of highly chromatic elements, but a cultural enrichment of the visual qualities in our environments, by integrating color, texture and formal composition, in a sensitive and sophisticated manner.

Gestalt of an object
Synthesis of color and form. Those who believe that form is more important than color, deal exclusively with the structural form of their building, mostly neglecting color appearance. However, nowadays, the view of often accepted “no separation of the structural form from the color”.

Glare and residential lighting
Glare is important for pedestrian visual performance (since he is slowly moving and the underlying situation is quasi-static). Reflections at glossy surfaces are expected to produce disturbing effects, in some cases at least. If identification and recognition are requested, the presence of glare significantly increases the lighting level needed to recognize the face of people around us, a basic prerequisite for the feeling of security and avoidance of fear.

Glass walls
Photochromic glass is nowadays used in a variety of situations, in particular, to create a color appearance changing with the time-of-day.


Guidelines for the use of color
A computer assisted facility for architects involved in the use of color, in the form of a proposal of coherent colors with different ranges of color families, in harmony with various criteria. Their goals are: to provide comfort and well being for inhabitants, to suggest the identity of a new tradition, respectful of the cultural identities, to provide various scales, in harmony a coherence between architectures and surrounding spaces, either internal or external to the site. Various “guides” have been proposed separately for various cities, and a data bank has been started. Drawings and photographs are nowadays made available on video, as well as information based on historical documentation referred to existing original schemes, to early color plans, etc. The Applied European Chromatic Chart displays the practices and perception of the chromatic palettes used in Europe, and represents the chromatic memory, assigning new associations of information and of the organization of the scenarios.

A peculiar sensation, depending on various factors. In particular, it may be considered as some kind of order: an ordering principle between color sensations, closely related to the message to be expressed. Some authors believe that color combinations can only be harmonious if the ratio of the lightness of the paired colors corresponds to their lightness ratio found in the natural scenes. Deviations from this condition may produce disharmony. The proposal has been recently made to rephrase the above statement as follows: in visual harmony, the relevant factor is the whiteness to blackness ratio, as related to the natural ratio. The bibliography on visual harmony is very wide. The extraction of the concepts specifically useful for environmental color design would be auspicable.

Hierarchization in urban scenes
The order of importance of the items in an urban scene is: luminance heterogeneity of the background, luminance/size heterogeneity of different areas, relation between the luminance distribution in various areas, situation of the zones just around the target.

Historical notes on the use of color in architecture
In the past, color has been often considered as a luxury. The color of the buildings was often determined by the materials locally available (stone, brick, clay, wood), anyhow the history shows a variegated set of solutions. Ancient Greeks painted and gilded their statues and temples. Strong, warm colors characterized some mediaeval complexes. Cold, dull shades characterized classicist buildings. Victorian England elaborately painted ironwork and decorative brickwork. Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements introduced new views. Around the end of the 20th century, three broad and overlapping tendencies, alongside with the still buoyant modernism (predominantly achromatic), dominated: 1) natural colors, emphasis being given to environmental harmony, 2) imposed colors, exploring the dynamic effect of color, 3) decorative color, mainly for interiors. Now, until recently, architects have had little predilection for the emotions in design, often equated to vulgarity. In modern cities, buildings of different styles, forms, ages, juxtaposition, coexist. At the site of restoration, first the building is to be examined individually, next an historical solution is adopted, which, however, must not antagonize with the ideal visual unit.

How color creates an atmosphere
It is accomplished in several ways: through associations, through physiological reactions, through psychological reactions, by ensuring a comfortable and pleasant environment given, for instance, by the level of optimal activity and emotional balance.

Hubertus house
In this house for parents and children, designed by Aldo van Eyck in 1973-1975, all the colors of the rainbow are used, orderly arranged as in the spectrum.

Human dimension
The set of stimuli which give the sensory input concerning the environment, allowing the definition of man and its surround, and leading to a feeling of well being.

Hundertwasser building

Illumination and color
The relationship between lighting and color concerns the effects on the appearance of colors, as well as perceptual constancy. For instance, it has been noted that a space appearing lively, exciting and inviting in a clear day, may look gloomy and forbidding in a cloudy late afternoon. Some authors have been paying particular attention to the interaction of color and illumination. For instance, Richard Meyer’s buildings exhibit relevant characteristics: their monochrome white structure looks marvelous, especially when seen in direct sunlight and in front of a blue sky. However, sometimes, monochrome gray structures in diffuse daylight, in front of a gray sky, look really depressing, as it is the case of some hospital buildings.

Impact of color on the mind
The impact is triple, since color acts at three levels (hue, lightness and saturation) through all material properties.

Informative functions of color
Logic and aesthetic information are carried by the same elements, but any particular structure carries its own particular message, which is transmitted by highlighting, contracting and grouping some visual codes, while disregarding others.

International Style
In the 20th century, a prejudice against color as an ornamental element, led to its being downplanned, since the International Style, after the twenties, swept North America with its hard geometries and absence of ornamentation.

Laws of architecture
The list includes structure, construction, materials, color, effect of light and shadows.

Light pollution
Presence of spill and wasted light in the environment. The amount of the effects of light pollution can be rated through proper techniques.

Local color
Real color of an individual locality, bound to sky, natural light, soil, rock and vegetation. The wider the environment, the greater the involvement of geographic features. For instance, a Mediterranean sunlit environment stimulates white and light tones. A white building before a blue sky sparkles freshness and suggests stability. In a northern, foggy landscape, a given color has an uncertain appearance, lost in its surroundings, unless combined with intensive, fiery colors. In sunless regions, on the façades, highly saturated colors in contrasting pairs are recommendable.

Logic information and color
Logic information is transmitted by standard codes. It is used to prepare the decisions and to control the behavior and the attitudes.

London Georgian houses
Cream colored stucco, imitation of the expensive Bath’s stone, in agreement with the restraint in architectural color dominating at that time.

Man-built space interaction
The built space acts upon man through: the shape of its elements, and their mutual relationships, the order of forms, the appearance of the surfaces, the expression of functions, the color of the elements, the association of shape and color expression, the function.

Mapping of a scene
A visual field analysis, due to C. Brusque, makes it possible to obtain the luminous mapping of a scene, combined with the use of image processing techniques, in order to describe the complexity of the background against which the target is distinguished.

Maps (photometric and colorimetric)
The environmental assessment relies upon the construction of maps, where measured data are orderly displayed. This implies, in particular: isoluminant maps, luminance and illuminance profiles, mean luminance of a zone, contrasts (local and average).

Mental constructs related to color
The mental construct is based on items like timbre, free association, association, cognition, process, and forms.

Misuse of color in architecture
Architectural changes in an environment can bring disaster, by reducing the effectiveness of personal communication in four ways at least: 1) destruction of the recognizable landscape; 2) using designs which isolate individual families into non-communicating units; 3) designing to include novelty, speed and change (inspired to modern technology benefits); 4) the replacement of the traditional white and natural pastel colors with bright, saturated colors, as well as the architect’s insistence on using little understood, scarcely acceptable, materials. In other words, basic structural units may be distorted (e.g. by applying a random pattern of patches, or a pattern contradicting the structure, and similar).

Models of color environment
The most general model of color environment includes: level, zones, and elements. Color environment may be considered as a unity with two interrelated sides: color contents (the set of colors and color combinations with fixed color characteristics), and color structure (the spatial disposition of colors, with fixed areas, corresponding to the color-form-space interrelations). Theoretical models help to take some color decisions, which are logical and correspond to specific requirements of environmental organization. Hence, reference is to be made to the following grouping: models based on the factors motivating a color decision (contents and structure), models based on its structural level (workplace, interior, exterior) and on its functional zones (production, services, communication), models based on the environmental components (architectural, constructive, technological, decorative, design elements, furniture, visual information, etc.). All these items have specific requirements for color design.

Models of outdoor lighting
C. Brusque and co-workers propose an image synthesis software, enabling designers to approach situations too complex for conventional methods, improving the representation of the different variants and providing a research tool complementing the existing methods of investigation. The LISLE program simulates outdoor lighting arrangements at a given site. It gives tools for the calculation of photometric parameters, allows solving complex lighting configurations through the qualitative analysis of the level of illumination, also simulating atmospheric scattering. The main stages of this program are: entry of data, design and project, calculation of the illumination, out of the results, comparison of calculated colorimetric and photometric magnitudes.

Models building of color architecture
The computerized models used by architects may be subdivided into a number of groups: logical, graphical, material (flat or spatial), coloristic and photographic. The systematic approach is based on a comprehensive consideration of the factors and of their interactions.

Obtrusive light (as related to road lighting)
Standards in matter of the effects of obtrusive light, as related to road lighting, already exist, at least in some countries, although further improvements cannot be excluded. They concern: sport lighting, security, recreation, all outdoor lighting for work, in addition to the potential impact on: residents and adjoining properties, road users, transport signaling systems, astronomical observations. The list of the parameters involved includes: illuminance on surfaces (test and adjacent areas), illuminance of luminaries, disability glare. The list of parties interested in standards includes: designers, developers, assessors, adjudicators, and “innocent by standers”.

By definition, orientation means “finding one’s way”, based on emotional content, entailing fear, frustration, horror and indifference. The corresponding main perceptual levels are: 1) identification of landmarks, areas and places (catching the attention, helping to remember it, adding sophistication, providing information); 2) identification of direction (e.g. through gradation of color, for instance, by passing from yellow to orange to purple).

Palette for architects
Each architectural project requires its palette to assist the viewer in reading a building. Distinction should be made between: archetypical color palette, geographical palette of the considered area (regional palette), definition of color for architectural support (depending on the shape and function of the architecture), but, according to Jean-Philippe Lenclos, essentially, on the character of the “local light”). In practice, the need for a palette is complicated by the need to deal with colors as referred to real materials (rocks, soil, vegetation, building materials, paints, other applied materials), under changing lighting conditions. Of course, the palette is different, in different countries, and abstraction cannot be made from the local tradition.

Park lighting
Lighting of public parks shares some problems with lighting of recreational areas. The list of lighting needs includes: security of persons and property, safety of park users at night, creating an attractive environment (lighting of flower beds, trees, waterfalls, gazebos, sculptures), a visual requirement, recognition of vandals, attraction of insects.

Patinated atmosphere
An aesthetic solution.

Patinated atmosphere
Spill light that, because of quantitative or directional attributes produces annoyance, discomfort, distraction, reduction and inability to see the essential information. Unwanted light leading to the unexpected and undesired view of bright luminaries, as well as to an increased brightness in a space, due to the intruding flux. The quantitative assessment of obtrusive light relies upon the following items: extent of the problem, tolerable limits, adverse effects, advice of the designer, light quantities involved, assessment of installation. Spill light is a cause of complaint, mainly due to forms of decorative floodlighting or sports lighting, spilling into commercial offices and domestic rooms (particularly annoying is that entering the bedrooms through the windows). When spill light is a source of glare, it may be rated by modifying the methods currently adopted for treating both discomfort and veiling.

Perception of form
The result of the perception of different volumes and dimensions, by understanding the constructive method, noticing the architectonic style and details, culminating in a mental pleasure. Texture, cesia, color and context, with form and space, are usually considered as the factors concerning the perception of form and of architectural shape. However, some authors even assert that, without color, there is no form. The debate is open.

Perceptual constancy (of form, brightness, color)

Perceptual judgment
Expression of the relationship between the physical variables and the perceptual variables that can be evaluated. Cognitive and affective processes are involved.

By definition, a place is a group of buildings, where the coordination with the nature and the surroundings has an emotional content.

Planned color
A set of experiences and stimuli, causing a positive reaction, creating a link between man and the built environment.

Pop out
In a visual search task, when a target is present, if the response speed and observer’s performance are not affected by the number of distractors (and, accordingly, the task is effortless), the target is said to “pop out”.

The architects belonging to this movement, active in the seventies and in the eighties, are responsible for a partial revival of color in architecture. In particular, they used granite and tile facing, as well as brashly colors and exposes pipes (ref. Center Pompidou, in Paris).

Post-occupancy evaluation of color applications
There are many kinds of built environments, which are to be used for purposes different from the original ones. Accordingly, the building has to be changed in function. Color is of basic importance in this respect, as far as both the façade and the interiors are concerned. In health care facilities color and light must be arranged to accommodate different functions and activities. The post-occupancy evaluation uses standardized criteria and a specific process of evaluation, which prevents partiality and ensures credibility. Christine Burton has proposed a multidimensional approach including three components: 1) a walk-through evaluation that qualifies color and light criteria by direct observation, to determine the performance issues; 2) the reading from an appropriate instrument, that expressed the quantities and the qualities of color and light in space; 3) the responses to questionnaires.

Psychophysiology of color
Color of indoor and outdoor environment influences people, by creating an atmosphere that affects the physiological control. In particular, color may affect blood pressure, respiration rate, reaction time, etc.

Radiosity model
Environmental model, which takes into account the inter-reflections and the specular reflections. The spectral composition of the source(s) is very important in this respect.

Reinforced concrete
Invented in 1857, reinforced concrete has become the primary building material, while for many decades decoration was declining. As an aside, dark, dull colors do not suit exposed or graved concrete sources.

Relationship between form and color
In the literature one finds a plethora of opinions and views about the relationship between form and color in architecture. According to some early beliefs, color is irrelevant, or, at best, it is a marginal characteristic of the urban environment, since the form and the activity do prevail. According to recent views, color reinforces the form as an expression of the coherence of the image of the city, and as a means of articulating its parts. However, color cannot work in contrast with form, by overlying multiple meanings in the city, even by creating ambiguity and plurality of meanings. Color makes the form rich and interesting. Color of buildings acts in a symbolic way, for instance by detaching a building from its neighbors (e.g. a cool, recessive hue, towards the blue end of the spectrum, would distance the building from a traditional incompatible surround). Color can profoundly affect the appearance of form. The ways certain colors can advance or retreat, blend in or stand out, have been used advantageously to control space and proportion in modern buildings, especially there, where space is limited. Color may act as a distancing device, by complementing other distancing devices, such as texture, reflectivity, patterns and contrasting plan geometry. Color plays an independent role in the definition and expression of the structure of the city. The sensation of space may be created by walls of different colors (after Léger, 1933), and color may form the space (Le Corbusier, 1960). Color may enliven a local set of circumstances. Color may produce a series of relatively fortuitous enhancements of local architectural forms. The role of color may be summarized as follows: expresses the built-in qualities of the volumes, changes the weight (heavy or light) and helps to estimate the size, points out the three-dimensionality, creates the right composition of volumes, their proportions, their components. Only very recently it has been made clear that color is an important factor in determining the appearance of the environment, provided it is properly used. Some architects believe that pure form exists, independently from color. Our ability to discriminate the colors allows us to recognize the forms, because of their plasticity. The perception of form is even dependent on our ability to recognize color differences. Color can also give us information about the state of the things.

Response to color
Distinction is made between: subjective responses, an intuitive sense of color, rapid and sensitive, objective responses, a reasoned color order, color as information, spontaneous emotion of fun and aesthetic function.

Responses to texture and color
This term covers several items. Among the main ones, let us quote decomposition (fragmenting) and discovering the patterns of coherence. Rich architecture, compared to poor architecture, needs less coloration based on saturated, marked contrasts. Smooth undivided façades may be revived by the use of color and lightness contrast.

Role of color in architecture
Color acts as an element of division. Color achieves general harmony. Color holds things together. Color destroys or emphasizes. Color divides, reinforces, contrasts, and mediates. A “color group” attracts our attention when it is clear-cut and its structure is well intelligible.

Seagram building
Designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson from 1956 to 1958, this building is characterized by an austere and abstract form of decoration based on visible structural items. The cost-effectiveness of concrete and glass made this building a model for a generation of colorless office buildings.

Sensation of presence

Sky associated colors
Blue and white are told to be colors associated with sky. They are embodied in the building, when its surface is covered with mirror glass, so that the reflected light changes with the color of the sky. Such a reflection affects the apparent weight of the buildings, making them to seem higher. Sometimes surfaces are other-than-flat, so that gross optical aberrations render fantastically complicated the appearance of the reflected images. The use of photochromic glass introduces a change in its optical transmission, according to the average outdoor level.

Space and space sensation
A space is a matter organized in a three-dimensional mode, so that correlations are established between the dimensions and proportions of the objects and space itself. In architecture, using forms and colors create space. The sensation produced by a space is tightly related to its function.

Stained glass

[The entry-word is lacking]''': In 1962, Aldo van Eyck asserted: “colors are still hardly recognized for what they are worth in architecture…” In an urban scene, colors still are an unsubstantial part, appearing incoherently in signs, advertisements, vehicles, clothing, and packaging. During the past decade, a radical change in attitude toward color has been taking place, unavoidably flanked by the need of organizing and teaching. The conceptual construct must allow subjectivity and objectivity to come together both in an initial and in a concluding hypothesis. At the beginning, the design work had to be integrated by adding elements to map a mental construct, including timbre, association, cognition, and forms. In this way, the color studies are linked systems of awareness, feedback and instruction, running parallel to design and communication exercises, including model making, photography, drawing (freehand and mechanical) and composition (spatial and formal), decomposition and fragmenting. It should be made clear that on one side man responds to texture and to sophisticated color, being biased towards discovering patterns of coherence; on the other side, there is an emotional response to high chroma, brightness, shine, glitter, symbolic meaning, association meaning. One of the most frequent “exercises for students” consists in creating a gradual transition from one color to another, but considering hue, lightness and saturation, by insisting on the notion of continuity of changes, as in the case of music.

The traditional color scale
In the recent past, the colors of the façades were inspired to the so-called tradition, and earth pigments were used. The color scale obtained by mixtures with a white pigment, with a hint of black, or another organic pigment, is rather limited, even if very characteristic. Nowadays the knowledge of the traditional color scale is fading out, but, according to experts, it should be recovered, because of technical, economical, historic and aesthetic reasons.

Too crowded environments

Total perception of the façade of a building
A perception is “total” when the visual experience “built up” by a sensation of light, color and form is combined with a lot of modalities concerning other sensations. The psychological response results in aesthetic evaluations, accompanied by a complex emotional loading. In particular, the main factors in the perception of form are: polar dimensions, unity disruption, and monotony variation. If the visual form represents the basis of the aesthetic evaluation, the color has less interest. This is in line with the statement that “color is an optional subject”. However, color is tightly related to the appearance, being connected to the surface of the object. Hence, color should fulfill both material and mental needs, in line with the statement that in metropolitan areas, all over the world, one should try to create an environment that is safe, beautiful and “good” under every aspect of design, and color is one of the most important elements or media to work with.

Townscape complexes (color design specific for)
Color underlines the importance of decisive building (at a corner, at a street bend, in a square), however various aspects of the problem are to be taken into account: façade coloration, topography, dimensions, order form of the building. In the case of high-rise buildings, it should be considered that they tame most of the skyline. To enhance the appearance of such buildings by coloration, attention should be paid to their harmonic proportions, to their system of forms, and so on.

Trompe l’oeil

Visual balance

Visual illusions in architecture

Visual pollution
Architects and designers, for many years, have campaigned against the cluster of unrelated objects, such as, for instance, the signs, which tend to accumulate in all public places. Nowadays, visual pollution, and color pollution in particular, starts being a case of serious concern.

White House (Washington D.C.)
The White House is based on the simulation of the stone, being the Western tradition marked by restraints in architectural color.

White revolution
A trend based on the expulsion of color from buildings, by painting everything white.

© International Colour Association 2009 last change: November 2, 2009