Untold Ideas: Considering Colour Thinking

In this series, we’ll be sharing some of the ideas and speaking to some of the people who inspire us and consider colour as integral to a project’s success.

Colour is all in the mind. It’s our brains response to the stimulus of light that causes this sensation that we call colour. Without life there is no colour. In this post we’d like to share our thoughts on how this phenomenon, colour, shapes the relationship we have with our cities.

So how as an industry can we can truly embrace the impact that colour has on the built environment?

To truly create a cohesive colour design, you need to put humanity right at the centre:


Sustainability & Wellbeing

A recent study by Stanford University looked at the link between mental health and climate change publishing some staggering findings.

They found that the suicide rose by 0.7% in the US & by 2.1% in Mexico when the average monthly temperature rose by 1C and if carbon emissions continue at current levels, we can expect an additional 9-40 thousand deaths from suicide across these regions by 2050[1].

Initiatives being explored in new build cities incorporate efficient smart technologies but in practical terms how can we develop a more sustainable approach when London already has 98% of its land built on?[2] This is where a careful consideration of colour for renovation and retrofit can make a significant impact. 

The darker a surface, the more it absorbs the sun’s energy and creates more heat. This phenomenon is at the root cause of Urban Heat Islands which have been blamed by many studies to have been an instrumental factor in the cause of deaths during heatwaves of vulnerable members of society.

We have an opportunity to cool our cities through a combination of science and nature without living in monochromaticity. Can we use new materials and coatings developments in conjunction with colour perception to enhance areas of light and shade evoking a new rhythm to our increasingly dense urban landscape?   



The current population of London 8.1 million is expected to rise to 13 million by 2050[3] and to accommodate demographic forecasts our living in becoming increasingly vertical. Buildings not only get taller and but also feel closer together limiting our light and privacy.

How will this compacting of living space in the ‘human zoo’ affect the way we feel about our ourselves and how we understand our environment?

Speaking in 2016, Professor Lorraine Gamman at the Design Against Crime centre at the University of the Arts, London argued that “public spaces don’t just need to be safe — people have to want to use them”[4]

Recently one of our clients Comex PPG, Mexico reminded us about their involvement in social projects to reclaim community spaces through the initiative #mexicobienhecho and in particular two projects Las Palmitas 2015 & Colossal Monterrey 2017 where they suffered from high incidence of violent and drug related crimes. Working with social development, crime prevention, sociology, psychology and anthropology professionals they created environments to engage with the community and capture the imagination of the youth. The legacy of these projects has taught the residents skills to maintain the environment and feedback suggests a significant reduction in the rates of murder and related crime.

Could we use insights from case studies like these as the basis for a new culturally associated colour design movement that is sensitive to the integration of London’s forecast population rise into the existing community?   

When we think about Las Palmitas, one of the reasons that we believe that this works is because the dwellings are staggered and low rise, they have an abundance of sky, a balance with local biodiversity and crucially a cultural precedent.

In early Western history vibrant colour was being used aesthetically in architecture to display wealth and symbolise divine significance. However, a movement away from applied pigments toward the use of materiality as colour to highlight pure form, to be ColourLess, seems to have become the mainstream of an international modern architecture movement during the 20th Century that to some extent we still see today.

Le Corbusier, however, played with colour to reconfigure spatial perception without his work becoming overtly colourful, all the time honouring the integrity of his materials and a sense of place. His work shows an understanding of the importance of balance and harmony in colour for the built environment.


Our Colour Manifesto

What if there could be a new way of thinking about colour for our cities where we appreciate and reflect the local history but plan for where we want to be. Colour gently harmonising through each area, enhancing a sense of place and creating an iconic modern narrative recognisable as London throughout the world.

Where we take account of the needs of our communities, becoming accepting and respectful of each other’s private space. Keeping more vibrant colouration to social areas, carefully crafting colour proportions in these spaces to support areas of tranquillity and while directing footfall through the most intuitive routes. 

A way of improving the performance of our buildings and public spaces through colour, to become more efficient, environmentally attuned and supportive to the wellbeing of their inhabitants.

Design is not just something that you build but how you make someone feel. Our feeling is that considered colour planning is essential to the challenges of future design to build well, human-centred places of meaning.

The change only happens with you.

This is the start of the conversation and we’d love you to continue the journey with us.


[1]Source: Marshall Burke, Felipe González, Patrick Baylis, Sam Heft-Neal, Ceren Baysan, Sanjay Basu & Solomon Hsiang Stanford University https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0222-x 

[2] Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41901294 BBC Mark Easton

With the help of Dr Alasdair Rae from the Urban Studies and Planning Department at the University of Sheffield 

[3] https://www.standard.co.uk/tech/rohan-silvan-changing-cities-the-future-of-cities-a3932691.html

[4] Source: https://apolitical.co/solution_article/cities-are-getting-more-crowded-better-design-could-stop-violence/

Justine Fox