I have always had an interest in science. My grandfather and my uncle were research chemists at General Electric. I grew up with glass beakers used for flower vases and measuring devices.
Chemical components in paint and how paints are made is valuable information for a color consultant as we specify paint from many manufacturers and for many different types of projects. Our selections are based on the color choices each manufacturer offers. Some paint companies have excellent neutrals, radiant saturated hues, or a wide range of whites. No one fan deck offers a perfect palette.
In addition to color aesthetics we need to be sensitive to environmental concerns. Manufacturers currently offer low VOC products which are better for the environment, the paint applicators, and end users. With concern about our environment most products used are acrylic based. These exterior paints typically enjoy a lifetime of 7 to 10 years on well prepared and primed surfaces. What causes paint to wear out are the UV rays which tend to break down the paint causing it to fade, lose its elasticity, and sometimes peel and crack.
There is one paint system we are interested in trying with our Clients – Keim Paints. They are not for every project but some of the institutional projects could benefit from their chemical composition. The paints are made from inert materials, sol-potassium silicate, and mineral pigment. By using water glass (potassium silicate) as the binder it is possible for Keim to produce products without the use of any solvents, plasticisers, preservatives and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The mineral matte finish radiates light in a dynamic way. The longevity of 20 – 30 years is the typical lifespan of the product, more than double the lifespan of typical acrylic-based exterior paint. The Keim Paints website notes their products have been used on the White House, Buckingham Palace, Sydney Opera House, and the Bolshoi Theater.
On typical paint projects the labor costs exceed the cost of materials. Our Clients tend to be cost conscious and front-end costs are important. Even though using Keim paint will have a higher front-end cost, there is the long-range impact of avoiding costly repaints every 7-10 years. We are eager to find a Client willing to use this product, as this impact may benefit the Client’s long-term approach to building maintenance.
At Colour Studio, we love a bold matte paint. And yet, in the United States, it is nearly impossible to find. There is always a little bit of sheen in the finish, which is especially visible in deep saturated hues. Shine on a wall surface bounces light back toward your eye, giving the surface a hard, impenetrable feel. Worse yet is when the deep hue takes on a synthetic or plastic like appearance. In contrast, a matte finish allows your eye to sink into the wall plane, giving colors a mysterious depth.
A few years ago, friends alerted us to a color book and fan deck from a company that sold matte finish paint palettes by Le Corbusier. Yes, Le Corbusier.
Some fifty years after his death, Le Corbusier’s achievements have firmly established him as one of the most influential figures, not only in modern architecture, but in the art world as a whole. He wore many hats as a writer, painter, urban planner, designer and architect. His work with color is less discussed, perhaps because we remember most of his modernism only through black and white photography. Many of his projects utilized white, natural wood or concrete against saturated bright colors to enhance form, volume and space.
He was commissioned by the Swiss manufacturer Salubra in the 1930s to design two series of wallpapers. The first were released in 1932, where he invented and revealed his color keyboard. His arrangement suggested how a designer should use the colors in combination.
Each color in the system has a unique background as Le Corbusier ground his own minerals and pigments to create each color. The Foundation Le Corbusier in Paris manages all of Le Corbusier’s work and Les Couleurs Suisse AG is the exlusive licensor of the original architectural colors. Fan decks, samples books, and other color tools are available for purchase on the Les Couleurs website.
We thank the man for his color legacy and find the palette offered to be timeless.
The school environment is a clear example of how color shapes human experience and behavior. Unfortunately, many public school color choices are relegated to administrative and maintenance staff. Classroom colors are often chosen based on ease of cleaning and cost cutting, so dull, institutional colors like grey and beige prevail.
But thoughtful color choice in school environments is crucial to student engagement. Several significant studies show that children behave and perform better in spaces where color is carefully considered. Dr. Harry Wohlfarth performed a study in the early 1980s among schools where institutional colors prevailed. Students were “least stressed” in the school where drab walls were replaced with warm yellow and light blue and full spectrum lighting was added. The students also showed reduced aggression and higher I.Q. test scores. Other studies have shown that school color choices can have an important impact on issues like attention span and absenteeism.
De Anza High, a public school in El Sobrante, California is a case in point. Built in 1955, the facility was long considered inadequate and had a reputation as a troubled school. Test scores and enrollment had sunk to new lows when the district broke ground on a new building in 2010 designed by the San Francisco office of DLM Architecture. Colour Studio was hired to develop both the interior and exterior color palette. “Color is relatively inexpensive way to bring energy and dynamism to a school,” says Colour Studio principal Jill Pilaroscia. For De Anza, lively shades were chosen for active spaces like the entry, corridors, gymnasium, and cafeteria/multi-purpose room. Quieter hues were employed to encourage focus in classrooms. To bring balanced energy into the auditorium of warm and cool hues, Colour Studio used warm woods, theatrical red velvet curtains, cool temperature paint and upholstery colors in deep blues.
The results of the new design and dynamic color program have been impressive. Enrollment grew significantly after the building opened in 2013, and grades have improved appreciably. The principal has also reported improvement in attitude.
For the Filipino Education Center, a public school in San Francisco, Roberta Wahl of PLUM Architects used color and thoughtful landscaping to energize the design. An urban school site for more than a century, this former preschool was converted into a middle school for 230 students in response to community outreach and feedback. A small footprint maximizes open space, which in turn is utilized for play yards and open garden seating.
Because the redesign relied on public funds, Wahl explains, “It is our challenge to find an architecture that is delightful while meeting the limited budget given to us. We take this on with pleasure.”
Color can energize a built environment in a highly cost-efficient manner. Wahl envisioned the building as a “little red schoolhouse,” she says. At the same time, “There was a lack of green in the area so that was added to give vibrancy and a sense of urban “greenery.” Additionally, striking redwood staircases and lounging benches provide warmth and dynamism to the campus. “I wanted something ‘precious’ for the kids, something beautiful that they would typically not be given because people had little trust in them. This is where the wood came in. They loved it and after nearly ten years, it’s yet to be marred.” PLUM was awarded a Coalition for Adequate School Housing Award of Merit in 2009 for the project.
Color is also an integral element at Nueva School in San Mateo, California, a private school designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects in San Francisco. The firm used a Le Corbusier-inspired color palette of primary hues to add a playful, dynamic appeal to the building. Punches of bold color on the mostly warm gray exterior help bring distinct design elements into focus.
The firm also employed strong color pops to connect the building to the outdoors, where generous public spaces are highlighted by splashes of blue, yellow, and red. For the interior, LMS maximized daylight with white surfaces that reflect sunlight to create a luminous environment. The school provides a variety of innovative educational environments – from flexible classrooms and outdoor seminar spaces to science laboratories and tech shops – designed to inspire the 21st-century student and offer a replicable new model for all schools.
As the stellar examples above show, there is no one formula for using color in an educational setting. However, a number of factors must be considered, Pilaroscia explains. A cross-disciplinary approach – one that considers grade level, demographics, culture and geography, biological and psychological responses – is the best way to bring color into our school’s classrooms and corridors.
Colour Studio principal Jill Pilaroscia played a pivotal role in San Francisco’s colorist movement, which spawned the popular “Painted Ladies” – fancifully painted Victorian houses for which the city is now famous. These houses are beloved by visitors around the world, but many don’t know the history behind them.
Painted Ladies on Steiner Street in Alamo Square, also known as Postcard Row
To begin, it’s important to note San Francisco’s role as a “unique architectural museum,” write ThePainted Ladies book series authors Michael Larson and Elizabeth Pomada. 48,000 Victorian houses were built here between 1850 and 1915. After the 1906 earthquake and fire, some 16,000 original houses remained; more modest and mass-produced homes were built on the western and southern sides of the city. The colorist movement began in the “Psychedelic ‘60s” in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury neighborhood, the heart of the counterculture of the time, Pilaroscia explains. “People wanted to show their joie de vivre and express their individuality through restoring and painting these beautifully ornamented buildings.” Homeowners and professional housepainters adorned their Victorians in numerous whimsical colors, from vermillion and cobalt to gold and turquoise. Strong color was used to differentiate architectural detail and ornament typical of the period, including fanciful gingerbread trim and light-capturing bay windows. Color was used to accentuate the asymmetrical facades and detailed patterns that architects of the period used to distinguish buildings from one another. San Franciscans were “passionate about using color to make Victorian architecture sing,” Pomada and Larson point out in How to Create Your Own Painted Lady. “By painting Victorian homes with extraordinary details in every color that hand, mind, and eye can conceive, San Francisco’s colorist movement became a unique form of self-expression.” As the Christian Science Monitor wrote in 1987, “What started as a lark became a local then national trend.” The Painted Ladies effort eventually spread to nearly every American city with similar architecture, with notable concentrations in St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Cincinnati.
Jill Pilaroscia mixing colors in the early days of the Painted Ladies
Pilaroscia began mixing her own colors in 1975 after graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute, joining a “boys club” of local colorists/painters.“I had to be able to do everything they did,” she remembers, including mixing paint in the back of her truck and climbing scaffolding to apply it.
Pilaroscia’s color scheme for 700 Broderick uses warm terra cotta tones and features a subtle faux finish on the massive chimney.
Pilaroscia’s design for 700 Broderick Street sparkles with 23 karat patent gold leaf.
Customizing color for these detail-rich structures was no simple task. “Victorian architecture provides many planes for color,” Pilaroscia says, “and each client wanted their house to look different.” In devising a color palette, she took cues from the house’s architecture to create a balanced, unique scheme. The house at 700 Broderick Street in San Francisco is a case in point. For this Stick/Eastlake structure, Pilaroscia hand-mixed each color based on the house’s colorful stained glass window. The overall palette grew from those hues, she says. It was a study in cool and warm. “I like working with complimentary colors as it gives a scheme complexity and dimension,” she notes. “You can see more gradations that way.” Integrating the house’s many surfaces which advance and recede as well as its ornaments is a main objective. “I like to do ribbons of color to weave the house together,” Pilaroscia explains. “It orchestrates the surfaces of a building and integrates the bay and the body.” Pilaroscia’s knowledge of color, along with her art and science practice set her up as an expert in her field. In 1987she was recruited by Hewlett Packard’s corporate real estate divisionto become their global color consultant for both exterior and interior environments for 14 years. Yet the legacy of Pilaroscia’s role in the colorist movement lives on. As Pomada and Larsen note, “The Painted Ladies make people look up. They make people more aware and eager for color, and not just on Victorians but on all styles of architecture.”
Pilaroscia’s 1919 Pierce Street color scheme painted by Local Color Painting
Pilaroscia states, “It was a privilege to be in involved with the Painted Ladies and the colorist movement. It allowed me the opportunity to contribute to San Francisco’s beloved and dynamic visual landscape.”