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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The role of environmental colour Avakumovic, Fiona


This thesis reviews the role of environmental colour, that found on the large manmade surfaces of pavements, facades and roofs. In addition, it provides a conceptual framework for the planner 'to think through' urban colour, that is, to reflect fully upon as a basis for developing strategies and evaluating options. In the built environment, colour is an essential, ubiquitous, enjoyable, and, now, highly topical element. However, much of the available information is, to the planner, too specialized, complicated by unresolved debates or dated. Therefore, to clarify the subject concisely and creatively for the planner, this thesis reviews pertinent literature, with material mainly drawn from architecture, fine arts, geography, optics, psychology, and urban design. Examples of recent or renowned uses of environmental colour, primarily from the 'Western' world for reasons of similarity of culture and climate to Canada, supplement the literature review. As a result, this thesis reveals to the planner that environmental colour may be thought through in terms of 'Place' and 'Power' and that, far from playing one principal role, environmental colour has many precise parts. Each of the surfaces on which colour occurs offers different constraints and opportunities for colour use. At various scales of perception, different factors also influence such use. Colour's power is both spatial, to transform the appearance of our surroundings through changing light conditions, surface spectral qualities, angles of perception, and synaesthesia, and psychological, to influence our well-being, through arousal, pleasure, and control. With this 'Power in Place', colour's symbolic, aesthetic, and functional values modify its six main roles, Background, Meaningful, Timely, Ciruculatory, Illusory, and Pictorial, to produce the array of precise parts which range from 'Backdrop' to 'Advertizer'. To realize the importance of these parts, the planner promotes 'thought through' environmental colour through strategies of education, exemplification, encouragement and enforcement, and through the contributions of various professional roles. However, more research is still needed about colour's environmental potential and the public's preferences in order to develop clear colour policies, especially if, as Ellen Marx (1972) confidently predicts: La tâche de l'urbaniste futur sera sans doute d'approfondir les critères qualitatifs et quantitatifs de la couleur et de la lumière, en collaboration étroite avec des biologistes, des psychologues, et des socilogues qui auront défini les besoins fondamentaux de silence, de l'espace, d'information et de communication de l'être humain. (The task of the future urban planner will undoubtably be to deepen the qualitative and quantitative criteria of colour and light, in direct collaboration with biologists, psychologists, and sociologists who will have defined the fundamentals of silence, space, information, and communication needed to be human.)

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