In an interesting article, architect Jacob Reidel notes that contemporary architects’ preference for exposed finishes such as concrete, brick, stone, and wood is a result of them being “suspicious – if not a little scared – of colour,” before going on to suggest that this might be because the architect’s “choice of applied colour may often seem one of the most subjective—and hence least defensible—decisions to be made over the course of a project”.
Moving applied colour outside of its ornamental definition into the structural and material realm, this project seeks to go beyond such a traditional focus on subjectivity by allowing colour to become the architecture itself. As our Pigment Pavilion attests, the solidification of pure pigments can be a shock of the blue (and yellow, and red). Rarely has the power of paint been so embraced: the structure becomes a celebration of the wavelength-selective absorption that allows a pigment to change the colour of reflected or transmitted light.
Paint is a material, in most cases designed to be applied to a wide range of surfaces, and aimed at drying to give a solid film that both imparts beauty and adds protection. Paints are made from pigments mixed with polymers (resins/binders), additives, and solvents/thinners. The pigments are finely ground powders, either made from naturally occurring minerals or produced in a synthetic fashion. Either way, they provide a wide range of features ranging from colour and opacity to filling properties, sandability, adhesion, durability, and corrosion resistance.
If we agree with Josef Albers, writing in his highly influential 1963 magnum opus Interaction of Color, that colour is ‘the most relative medium in art’, then paint – essentially suspended pigment – might be the most relative medium in architecture. As building materials go, it is certainly the one that achieves the highest depth-to-effect ratio: just make the mental experiment of trying out a famous building in a new colour. A black White House? A pink Seagram Building? A green Taj Mahal?
The master of ultramarine monochromy, Yves Klein, famously worked with chemists at a French pharmaceutical company to achieve the International Klein Blue hue that he felt captured the “authenticity of the pure idea” of blue. The Pigment Pavilion uses a similar consilient excursion into the world of pigments to translate that pure idea into architecture.