Colour as a tool

Recently I talked with Ellie Duffy about our love of colour and how we use it as a tool in the environment. The article will appear in a new digital journal focused on colour and texture in design and architecture. It was a great to reflect on how important colour is to the work we do and share some of our bold and beautiful work.

July 2022
Leah Harrison Bailey

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Colour and brand

“Translation of brand into place requires a different perspective on colour,” says Harrison Bailey. “Brands tend to be made for marketing and digital, with colour palettes that are brilliant for grabbing people’s attention across busy media contexts. But interior projects and placemaking situations call for a more nuanced approach.”

Harrison Bailey explains that their work in cultural contexts and the built environment often leads to broader palettes, with sets of brights for marketing and digital purposes complemented by softer, darker base sets. “With wayfinding in particular it’s really important for legibility to have a solid, dark ground for white text to jump out of.”

Her top tip on working with colour is to be unafraid and to remember that colour in space interacts with both texture and form. “Colour is never flat in the environment,” she says.


Colour and place identity

Thomas.Matthews’ identity and wayfinding for Gardens by the Bay – a 101-hectare nature park in central Singapore – is inspired by the distinctive colour contrast of the native mangosteen fruit. The deep purple and leafy green combination was ultimately applied across signage, seating, tree grilles, merchandise and even vehicles.

“The bold colours came directly from that environment, informing a mix of colour and pattern that creates a brand, says Harrison Bailey. “Attitudes to colour inevitably shift across cultures and time. To really root brands in place for the long term, our approach is to mine local contexts and histories. The inspirations here included exotic landscapes by post-Impressionist Henri Rousseau and a local craft tradition of paper cutting. The result really holds its own in a very colourful environment.”

‘It’s never possible to precisely guarantee what colours others are seeing,” she observes. “We’re very conscious of accessibility, so we use some great simulators to test colours against different kinds of sight impairment. It’s amazing how adjusting tone can impact on impressions of colour.”


Colour and cultural buildings

At the UK’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, a new-build music facility by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Thomas.Matthews worked with the design team from the early days of the project. Here, their building identity and wayfinding system is inspired by the physicality of playing, performing and listening to music.

Colour was applied in a functional way, helping aid orientation and define uses across different building levels. “Drawing on a local craft tradition of paper marbling, we worked with a specialist to develop bespoke patterns in different colour combinations. The results are used at large scale to define zones and thresholds echoed in signage elements – helping people find their way while bringing joy.”


Colour and urban placemaking
Sometimes colour is about putting a place on the map. In their Brightening up Stratford Broadway project, the studio helped create a more welcoming face for an East London district overshadowed by the nearby Olympic Park. A front door for the neighbourhood was created in the form of a colourful 50m mural by artist Corin Kennington, alongside brightly painted pedestrian crossings and temporary wayfinding to support a cultural trail.

Thomas.Matthews worked with the local Business Improvement District and council to help deliver positive outcomes with colour, including improved pedestrian permeability, enhanced local identity and wayfinding to civic functions like theatre and cinema, the public library and high-street retail.

Their graphic approach was inspired by Victorian shopfronts and the tradition of pasting advertising bills across the facades of commercial buildings: “We overlaid those concepts with colour, but in a way that doesn’t obscure the inherent texture of the built environment. In many ways this is a project that uses colour to join up the dots of a place – because colour can really make connections for you.”

Find out more about our love of colour visit TM Works 🙂

ⓒ Craig Sheppard