Experiencing Architecture

By Steen Eiler Rasmussen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
Color in Architecture

It is well known that ancient Greek temples were originally polychrome but time has robbed them of every trace of color so that today they stand in naked stone. But even though this process must have changed them greatly, we still experience them as noble architecture. When a painting loses its color it no longer exists as a work of art but this is not true of architecture, for the art of building is first and foremost concerned with form; with dividing and articulating space. In architecture color is used to emphasize the character of a building, to accentuate its form and material, and to elucidate its divisions.

If by "color" we mean not only the primary hues but also all the neutral tones from white through gray to black and all mixtures, then it is manifest that every building has color. What we are interested in here is its employment in a purely architectonic sense.

Originally, color was no problem at all; it came of itself. Man used the materials which Nature supplied and which experience taught him were strong and serviceable. The walls of his dwelling might be of hard-packed mud dug up on the building site or of stones gathered nearby. To these he added twigs, withes and straw. The result was a structure in nature's own colors, a human dwelling which, like a bird's nest, was an integral part of the landscape.

Primitive man decorated his neutral-colored wooden cot or adobe hut by festooning it with garlands of flowers or by covering the gray walls with colored fabrics. Thus he sought to improve on the rawness of nature, just as he might hang colorful ornaments on his sun-tanned body.

Later, man discovered how to make the materials more durable than they were from nature's hand, and new colors began to ap-

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