Trend Foresight: Vernacular Architecture Colour

From MIX Magazine

Vernacular Architecture Siberia

In this abridged version, first seen in issue 40 of MIX Magazine, we ask can architects use colours sourced from vernacular architecture to give identity to new projects?

As globalism becomes ever more pervasive in architecture, there’s a surge of interest in grounding architecture in place. Embracing regionalism and acknowledging local cultural traditions, vernacular architecture has a strong appeal. But there’s another reason to learn from vernacular architecture; a unique and often inspiring use of colour.

The way colour is used in many regions could be considered incidental, a pragmatic approach that is about using often-scarce available resources and materials unique to a specific region. But there’s more to it than that; the use of colour when freed from the restraints of globalism becomes a master-class in bold and fearless juxtapositions of shade and an innate understanding of light and how colours interact with the particular conditions of a particular location.

According to Linda Thiel, Architect at Swedish architectural practice White, we have much to learn from vernacular architecture. “The colour and material has to do with function, and what is possible to produce on location. Nowadays, with more focus on sustainability and locally produced material and colour, maybe we are going back to this, to our roots and also the way that light is different in different places. This will again reflect the choice of colour and material on buildings.”

Studying vernacular architecture can also provide inspiration on how best to imbue structures with a strong sense of place. For Christian Male, Practice Partner SimpsonHaugh and Partners, the most successful example of colour and environment working in perfect synchronicity is not even a building. “The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco takes the rich red of the hills and the extraordinary light from the Pacific and then captures the colour in a way that looks entirely natural and right,” he says.

However Meredith Bowles, Director, Mole Architects, does have reservations about the applications of vernacular colour, especially if adopted in isolation.  “I’m a believer that architects should make places that come together, where the sum of individual buildings adds up to something extraordinary.  The most impressive cities have a cohesiveness that is often derived from an unwritten rule about scale, colour, and building types. Making a coloured building to stand out is unlikely to add value to a place, unless the use of the building suggests otherwise,” he says.