New urbanisms of colour: saturated colour in the urban landscape 2000-2019
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date13/12/2023
Colour design in built environments is generally treated with attitudes of a somewhat conservative nature. Compared to neutral colours and colours that are inherent to materials, brighter colours and those that are high in chroma (defined hereafter as saturated colours) appear less frequently in environmental colour design. This research is undergirded by the observation that the presence of saturated colours has become more prevalent in the design of urban spaces in recent years, particularly in the context of social media posts and reports on design and architecture websites. Along with the emergence of more striking colours, new expressive ways of using colour have also sprung up in urban spaces. The prevalence of saturated colour and emerging colour expressions has emerged as a critical force in shaping the appearance of contemporary urban landscapes across the world. Yet, beyond the growing number of pictures of projects hosted on social platforms and reports from design sites, less than expected is known about this dramatic change in the design language of environmental colour. This research contributes to knowledge of both colour and urban literature by providing an overview of this emerging phenomenon in design and a perspective of urbanisms of colour to understand this dramatic change of colour in contemporary urban and landscape design. In this research, “urbanisms of colour” is an integrated concept comprising the urban context for studying the colour and different interrelationships between colour and urbanism. To explore the link between environmental colour and urban issues, this study adopts a social semiotic approach to classify colour designs and decipher the evolution of colour in urban and landscape design. To provide a sufficiently detailed and accurate outline of this phenomenon, this research collected nearly 700 urban and landscape projects featuring saturated colours completed between 2000 and 2019, together with information on projects and colour design. Drawing on Kress and Leeuwen’s social semiotic model of colour in social communication, this study identifies five main colour practices within this phenomenon: Branding and Commodification, Urban Intervention, Sports and Recreation, Traffic Environment and Historical and Post-industrial Place. Among them, the dramatic increase in saturated colour for branding is due to colour’s role in social communication has been reinforced by changes in urbanisms of colour. In turn, under the influence of globalisation and social media, expressive colour design has the potential to catalyse considerable changes in urban spaces. Colour expression in the urban environment is formed and driven by new communicative and expressive needs. The findings suggest that under the context of a new geography of colour, significant changes occurring in colour designs in contemporary urban environments are directly shaped by urbanisms of colour. The concept of urbanisms of colour is therefore proposed as a critical lens for understanding changes in environmental colour and an aspect to keep in mind when making colour decisions in contemporary urban environments.
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