Color and the Learning Environment

Image: Metropolis Magazine

“Can design help kids learn?” asks last February’s issue Metropolis Magazine. Of course it can! I quickly opened the magazine and could not wait to read the article. Featured were elementary through high school projects built nationally and internationally by notable architects. The new facilities sparkled.

Facing tight budgets, and financial shortfalls, not every school district can build new ground up buildings. Acknowledging the idea thoughtfully designed buildings can enhance learning; can we use color and paint as an effective and inexpensive tool to enliven the educational environment? Studies have shown there is evidence that color application and learning environments are codependent.

Image: Oslo School – Architectural Record

Heinrich Frieling of the Institute of Color Psychology tested 10,000 children ages 5 to 19 from around the world. According to the child’s psychological development level, the tests showed certain colors appealed to different age groups. . Dr Ellen Grangaard, in her doctoral thesis for the IACC, used the Frieling color palettes for classrooms pairing age and color preference and found off task behaviors declined and academic standing improved.

Image: Tel-Aviv Kindergarten – The Cool Hunter

The Wolfarth Study conducted in the 1980’s, studied the effects of light and color on elementary students for a full school year. The results showed carefully selected color and light lowered blood pressure and stress levels, reduced disruptive behaviors, and improved academic performance and IQ scores.

Image: Phoenix Union Bioscience High School – Architectural Record

Color deprived environments are bland and uninspiring. By introducing color, one can heighten the sense of movement and exploration. Colors in corridors and public spaces such as lunchrooms, and gymnasiums can be dynamic and energetic. Colors in classrooms, libraries, and science labs can be calibrated to the activities occurring specific to those tasks. Carefully selecting colors and placing them strategically in rooms could improve learning and concentration.

Image: Amsterdam High School – The Cool Hunter

One pioneer worth mentioning in the field of school color is Ruth Lande Shuman. Shuman founded her nonprofit, Publicolor in 1996 in New York City. The non-profit has enhanced over 95 school environments by involving students in improving the looks of their school with paint. The program has an environmental benefit which is what I am most interested in promoting. The secondary benefit is social as the non-profit instructs disenfranchised students in the trade of painting.

Image: Jubilee School

There is no formulaic approach to color for school. The Frieling work established color preferences by age group, but this does not translate to every school in every culture or geographic locations offering classes to elementary students should be a specific color. The work of Publicolor does not mandate that each schoolroom should be bright stimulating color no matter what its function. What I am acknowledging is we need to heighten our awareness and acceptance of the role of color as a tool to shape behavior and enhance experience in the academic setting.

Author: Jill Pilaroscia, Colour Studio, Life In Color

White – The Complex Color

Image: Interior Color Palettes by Dai Linong

The perfect white interior is radiant, clean, modern and chic. You assume you can’t go wrong with white. But it’s more challenging to select successful whites than you might think, White is not pure. Its sin is reflection.

One client painted her living room and dining room entirely bright white. After the painting was completed she noticed distinct gray shadows at all corners of the room. She was sure the painter used the wrong color. How could the room already look dirty?

The owners of a Craftsman-style home with its characteristic dark redwood ceiling beams and trim, wanted to make the interior feel lighter and brighter but did not want to paint over the natural wood. They selected the purest white they could find, and discovered the new paint did nothing to change the impression of the rooms. In fact, the intense light dark contrast between the wood and paint made the rooms appear even darker. How could white not brighten their environment?

Image: Paint – The Big Book of Natural Color by Elizabeth Hilliard and Stafford Cliff

Choosing the right white for the environment makes all of the difference. There are whisper whites with undertones of pink, green, blue, violet, gray, umber, yellow and blends of these colors intermixed to create complex whites.

We judge colors by comparing one to another. A sage green couch can bring out the complimentary pink in a seemingly neutral white. Hung on the wall, a painting with dominant orange tones will call forth blue undertones against a white wall.

Be sure to analyze your whites and sample the color in your environment under natural and artificial light. Remember in white rooms, every object in the space will be on stage.

Image: Elle Decor Magazinge – Jan/Feb 2010

The majority of whites I use tend to have some yellow component in the mix. They suggest sunlight and can make a room glow. They will not shadow at corners and look dirty.

Benjamin Moore:
OC-121 Mountain Peak White
OC-90 Vanilla Ice Cream
OC-85 Mayonnaise

Image: Color At Home By Meg & Steven Roberts

When I want the gallery look I use these whites. For them to work successfully the rooms need excellent light – either natural or skillfully selected ambient light.

Benjamin Moore:
Ready Mix Super White
OC-45 Swiss Coffee

Farrow and Ball:
2005 All White

In rooms with saturated wall colors I frequently select pigmented whites for ceilings and trims. They will minimize shocking contrasts where the walls and ceilings intersect. These colors can also work in rooms with dark woodwork to soften contrasts and create glow.

Benjamin Moore:
OC-92 Mannequin Cream
2153-60 Rich Cream
OC-100 Palace White

Before you go to the paint store, inventory the dominant items in your room. Identify the colors of these given elements – the couch, rugs, art, and wood finishes.

At the paint store, select several white color cards you are considering out of the display. Hold them directly against one another to see and compare the underlying color tones. Identify if you are drawn to a grey white, a yellow white.

Then think about the objects in your room that will be seem against the white walls. Look for harmony between the white and the given elements. If you have a warm neutral couch, look for a warm neutral white which will blend well. If you have a dominant red rug, look for a warm red that will not turn green against the flooring.

Pay attention to the subtleties of white and you will have a color success.

Image: Paint – The Big Book of Natural Color by Elizabeth Hilliard and Stafford Cliff

Author: Jill Pilaroscia, Life In Color, Colour Studio