Colourful Cambridge Campaign


Inspiration: New Buildings



Many people think of modern architecture as colourless - with buildings made of concrete, brick, and occasionally timber. If the buildings are rendered, it would be in white or cream. Many modern buildings are like this. But most of the masters of the Modern Movement in architecture did actually use colour - often with great skill and enthusiasm.

Frank Lloyd Wright used colour, particularly in his stained glass. So did Charles Rennie Mackintosh; the window below is in the House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow. Constructed between 1989 and 1996 the house is based on Mackintosh's original designs produced in 1901.

Le Corbusier also used coloured stained glass, for example in some of the deeply pierced windows in his stunning chapel at Ronchamps, France:

Le Corbusier was a master of colour, who worked with the artist Ozenfant to develop harmonious colour palettes. These, which were softer than pure primaries and were based on earth tones, were famously used on the recessed balcony walls at his Unite d'Habitation building in Marseilles:

Le Corbusier also used strong colours on the interior of his monastery at La Tourette, including colour on concrete and on the inside surfaces of skylights:

Strong but warm colours were used with great panache by Luis Barragan, the most famous Mexican architect of the twentieth century. He was the second winner, in 1980, of the prestigious international Pritzker Prize for architecture. His buildings often incorporate tall external walls in strong solid colours - something he borrowed from traditional Mexican architecture. It is said that he never used green on the exterior of his buildings, because he wanted them to contrast with the landscape.

The De Stijl movement, with its severe commitment to rectangular geometry and flat white surfaces, permitted itself only narrow stripes of primary colour, as in Rietveld's Schroder House:

This use of accents of primary colour was taken up twenty years later by the celebrated husband and wife team of designers Charles and Ray Eames. Here is their own house:

And here, by Richard Rogers with Renzo Piano, is the Pompidou Centre in Paris, where the pipes and ventilation shafts are picked out in primary colours:

A current exponent of primary colours in buildings is Will Alsop. He is a painter as well as an architect, and in 2000 won the UK's top architectural award, the Stirling Prize, for his Peckham Library. Here is his remarkable Sharp Centre for Design at the Ontario College of Art & Design, Ontario, Canada:

More primary colours on an apartment building in Lagos, Nigeria:

A blue house in Amsterdam:

And yellow roofs on an unusual country retreat in Nagano, Japan:

Colour can be used to brighten up otherwise forbidding blocks of apartments. Here are two examples, in Miami, Florida and in Singapore:

And here is the Hotel Puerto America, in Madrid, Spain. The exterior treatment was designed by leading French architect Jean Nouvel, who used the retractable sunshades to give a spectrum of colour to the facade:

Three other examples of the use of strong exterior colour on modern buildings come from a gymnasium in Denmark, a sports hall in Germany, and from the Lowry Centre, Salford. The Lowry Centre was designed by Michael Wilford, who carried on James Stirling's practice after his death.

A more modest example is this house in the new low-carbon housing development at Vauban, in Freiburg, Germany:

One of the leading British exponents of colourful modern buildings is the award-winning London based practice Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. We show below three of their recent buildings: the Westminster Academy in west London, the nearby headquarters for the Monsoon clothing company, and an apartment building in Barking, east London:

Another example of colour accents being used in a modern building is the Oswald Morris Building at the National Film & Television School, Beaconsfield, designed by Glenn Howells Architects:

Colour is often brought to the exterior of a modern building through the use of coloured glass, as in this penthouse apartment added to an existing building in Milwaukee USA:

Other bold uses of transparent colour include the Kubik Portable Open Air Night Club in Berlin, a sports centre in Paris, and the Allianz Area in Munich. The Allianz Arena, designed by leading Swiss architect Herzog & de Meuron, changes colour between red and blue depending on which of the two Munich teams is playing:

As well as being bold, transparent colour can be used to create subtle effects. The Laban Dance Centre, designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, won the prestigious Stirling Prize in 2003:

Another interesting example of the subtle use of colour, including coloured glass, is the Picpus Housing project in Paris:

Finally colour can be applied to buildings as light rather than surface. Here is a strikingly lit multi-storey car park:


And here is coloured light applied to the Dexia Tower office building in Brussels, Belgium, and to the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada:

Light can be used on sculpture as well as buildings. Here are images of a light installation in the courtyard of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London:

And here, with light applied to the insubstantial medium of water, are the dancing fountains of Minsk, in Belarus:

We round off our journey around colourful modern buildings with our old friend the Empire State Building, looking well as it rises over New York City on a moonlit night:

For our companion section on inspiration in the use of colour on older buildings, please click here: Inspiration Old.


The Colourful Cambridge Campaign encourages the wider and more imaginative use of colour in Cambridge - on buildings old and new. Our aspiration is to make Cambridge Britain's most colourful city. The Director of the Colourful Cambridge Campaign is Alex Reid, email:


Return to Home Page
About the Campaign
What not to paint
Colour Projects
Colour Network
Inspiration Old
Inspiration New
Celebration Old
Celebration New
World of Colour