Its Always Hot in the Performing Arts

Opera houses, concert halls, and theaters are architectural monuments to a rich culture of performance arts. Traditionally performance environments have been done in warm palettes: red specifically but with lots of gold, orange and warm woods and stone. Its a color scheme usually called “Red Plush.” For example, below is the newly reopened Bolshoi Theatre in Russia.
“Bolshoi” means “grand” in Russian, and the new theater fills the bill. Tapestries have been rewoven, crystal pendants in the main two-ton chandelier have been restored or replaced, and the balconies have been covered with gold leaf. Over 150 goldsmiths worked with the nearly 11 pounds of gold leaf used for the interior. From a box on the side of the stalls, security guards watched a rehearsal of “Ruslan and Ludmila.” Here for more

Eastman Theater in Rochester,  New York is also a classic example of the red plush grande drape and seating upholstery
The meme has spread all over the world. Above is Chinas National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. It is truly epic inside. Our Associate Designer, Emily,  can tell you from personal experience, when you stand on that stage the audience is an expansive sea of lush red seats. It goes back and back and back for what seems like forever. The Opera house alone seats 2,416. 
Though we have found very little direct evidence about why red plush came to be the dominate scheme or why it continues to be,  there are a myriad of different opinions out there.  The psychological profile of red associates the color with power, anger, blood, all things dramatic and dynamic.  Red dyes were particularly difficult to produce during theater’s renaissance revival.  The dyes were very expensive and were perceived as opulent, extravagant, special.  Those lucky enough to afford tickets to attend  theater  expect the experience to be stimulating and engaging which fits with red’s personality.    For the more scientifically minded of you there is the theory about the shorter wavelength of red allowing the eye to easily adjust to a darkened environment. For more theories see this.
The Sydney Opera House
But as we were looking around for images of theater interiors we came across an outlier or two. Above the Indiana University Musical arts center trades in the red grande drape for a perhaps even more opulent royal purple. 

This one is cheating a bit, we admit it, but this emerald green drape from Wicked would be lush and vibrant as a grand drape. However the color message would be entirely different.  Mystery awaits in the forest. What colors would you like to see on your next trip to the Opera or Ballet?

– Emily Eifler, Associate Designer, Colour Studio

The effects of Aging on Color Vision

It is common knowledge that vision problems crop up as we age. The Mayo Clinic’s website mentions the four most well known: Cataracts, Glaucoma, Macular degeneration, and Floaters[1]. It is less well known that our ability to see color also decreases as we age. This knowledge comes in handy on one of our current projects: the Mary Helen Rogers Senior Community. The community, which is currently being built in San Francisco near Civic Center, is named for the well-loved local Mary Helen Rogers who was called the “true matriarch of community activism in San Francisco,” by former Mayor Gavin Newsom. She was a founding member of the Western Addition Community Organization, a group that forced the city to support its lower income residents displaced by racism and urban renewal.  In the spirit of her generosity we also wanted to do our best to support the future community there with our own work, and with an aging community come aging eyes. 

How do you go about designing a color environment for people who see very differently from you? The first step, as always, is research. “Cells in the retina that are responsible for normal color vision decline in sensitivity as we age, causing colors to become less bright and the contrast between different colors to be less noticeable. In particular, blue colors may appear faded or “washed out.” [2]To counteract this degradation environments for seniors should be outfitted with higher contrast surfaces, such as increasing the contrast between a floor and countertop.

Also, the “muscles that control our pupil size and reaction to light lose some strength. This causes the pupil to become smaller and less responsive to changes in ambient lighting. Because of these changes, people in their 60s need three times more ambient light for comfortable reading than those in their 20s.”[3] This greater need for light in the eye can also be addressed in the environment with brighter colors, which bounce more wavelengths of light back to the eye than duller colors. As seen in the graphic below, low saturation colors quickly turn toward black and white as vision ages while high saturation colors maintain a high degree of visual vibrancy.  

A recent study in The Journal of Gerontology on color vision in the aging eye returned informative results on the particular qualities of color that are more difficult for seniors to see. The study measured the “losses of color vision in the dimensions of hue, saturation, and brightness”[4]The study demonstrated a “loss of discrimination of saturation beginning at age 50, with rapid change noted after age 60. Similar findings were seen for hue but were not evident for brightness.” The participating scientists concluded with the hope that this “information will provide a basis for planning safer, more functional environments for elderly people.”

We selected a color palette for the interior to aid in way finding in this 8 story building.  Here are some of our selections.

Emily Eifler, Associate Designer, Colour Studio


[1] Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com/health/vision-problems
[2] All about vision, www.allaboutvision.com/over60/vision-changes.htm
[3] All about vision
[4] The Journal of Gerontology, geronj.oxfordjournals.org/content/46/6/P320.short