Sunday, September 23, 2012

Color blocking: trendy or timeless?

I lived this year's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in a particularly intense way as my wife covered the Jason Wu for Brizo Collection for her blog Dec-a-PorterAs I browsed through photos of the new collections, it struck me that color-blocking seems to make a comeback with some regularity. It is almost originally predictable. I wonder if color blocking is a recurrent trend, or rather a timeless fashion statement? There is no doubt that when used well, it can be very elegant and effective, but we have also seen the easily forgettable cases of simplistic adaptation.


Drawing a parallel with my world of interiors and architecture, I tried to remember when I have seen it used effectively in the built environment, and when it has fallen short of what solid colors can achieve when used with talent.

A recent Dezeen feature on the Hotel Modez in Arnhem came to mind, where the ubiquitous QR-codes were used as decoration, framed by blocks of black and white. I am not sure if this is the kind of room that Philip K. Dick might have had in mind when he wrote about the way androids dream, but it must be close.

                                                                        QR-Code Hotel Room by Antoine Peters 

Beyond this unusual example, my mind wandered towards images that have been more inspirational to me, and bursts of my favorite abstract expressionist painter popped-up. I have always been captivated by Rothko's pulsating canvases, and if they are not entirely the result of pure blocking, those large juxtaposed color spaces are both mesmerizing and soothing.

                                                                                                                                      Mark Rohtko 

Luis Barragan achieve the same serene tension in his interiors with the use of color to define surfaces and architectural elements, and I think he created unmistakably timeless spaces that recurrently provide inspiration for the newer archetypes.

                                                                                              Casa Gilardi (1975) - Luis Barragan

On a more artistic level, the use of sharp, well-defined color blocks to influence human interaction with the urban world has been a theme in the work of artists like Christo and Jeanne-Claude, which illuminated another New York catwalk with their Central Park The Gates project in 2005. New Yorkers that were lucky to experience this site-specific artwork will probably never again see the color orange in the same way.

                                                                                          The Gates (2005) - Christo and Jeanne-Claude

I think color is a crucial element in the creation of the visual environment, and if the richness of layered spaces can often be key to achieving comfort, a wise and talented use of color in its simplest form can achieve simultaneously a fashionable and timeless quality that so many designs aspire to.

Some great examples are:

The work of Karim Rashid, in particular his Semiramis Hotel in Athens, where blocks of colored glass not only define the spaces, but they also influence the way guests transition from one to the other.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Semiramis (Athens, Greece)

The Saguaro in Palm Springs is a colorful oasis, where all the side-by-side hues achieve a visually striking effect that flows from exterior to interior.

Architects Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat infused local color into the building around a palette of 12 vibrant tones found in native desert wildflowers.

The colors adorn each balcony and patio, enlivening the indoor areas and spilling to the outdoor public spaces. The color set follows the light spectrum, which in turn creates different perspectives of the hotel according to the time of day.

And finally, a hotel that I wish I could call my regular hang-out, the Gramercy Park Hotel. I love how the blocks of varying tones of red color punctuate the spaces, and define this intriguing and fashionable New York sanctuary.

                                                                                                             Gramercy Park Hotel - Lobby