Colourful Cambridge Campaign


Inspiration: Old Buildings



To help us make Cambridge the most colourful city in Britain, we can draw inspiration from history, from around the country, and from around the world. This sections gives examples of the bold and imaginative use of colour on old buildings. 

We can start in the past, with the ancient Egyptians, who made good use of colour on their buildings:

This tradition was carried into classical Greek architecture. The natural sun-washed stone of the ruined Parthenon is much admired today. But it was originally brightly painted:


The custom of bright painting lives on. In Britain it is seen mostly on the coasts. This may be because people relax at the seaside or because seafarers have seen bright colours in foreign lands. Everyone likes the brightly coloured beach huts at Southwold, Sussex:




And everyone likes the brightly coloured fishermen's houses, reflecting the colours of the fishing boats, in Tobermory in Scotland, and the equally colourful houses in Llandeilo in Wales:




More seaside colour, in amazing and effective combinations, in Alicante Spain, Honnisvag Norway, and Santorini Greece:





The most famously colourful place in Europe is probably Burano - an island in the Venetian Lagoon. Part of an achipelago of islands liked by bridges, it has a population of 4,000 , was settled by the Romans, and is 7km from Venice. It reached its peak of prosperity in the sixteenth and seventeeth centuries, during which it was an important centre for lace making. Known for its small, brightly painted houses, Burano is popular with artists. The designer Philippe Starck owns three houses there. The colours of the houses follow a specific system, now enforced by law, which dates from the golden age of Burano's development:










The Italians can also take credit for the eye-popping colours of the houses in La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina. La Boca was settled by Italian immigrants from 1880 to 1930 and is famous as the birthplace of the Tango. Because the settlers could not afford paint for their houses, they used the left over paint that was used to paint the ships in the dock. The results are spectacular:



Whereas Burano and La Boca go for a bold mix of colours, Jodhpur in India is famous for one predominant colour, blue:


It is only rarely, in places such as Burano, La Boca and Jodhpur, that whole communities go bold with colour. But all around the world enterprising individuals, designers or building owners, break out in colour. They are to be congratulated. Our first examples are from Dublin Ireland. The pair of fine eighteenth century doorways are enlivened with bold red and yellow doors. And the more informal blue door, from the North Quays area of Dublin, splashes out in fine style:




Our next three examples are from Sao Paulo and Salvador City in Brazil, and from Colombia:





Waterfront houses in Curacao, and terrace houses in San Juan, Puerto Rico:




Some of the boldest examples of the use of colour on buildings are to be seen in exotic places. Our next group of images are from the Turks & Caicos Islands, Belize and Singapore.





And the United States of America should not be overlooked. We show images below of houses in Washington DC, an artist's fence in Lynwood, California, and the improbable Flamingo House in Daly City, California:





We close this section on the inspirational use of colour on old buildings with some practical examples closer to home. Two of our examples are from London: Portobello Road near Notting Hill Gate, and Kelly Road in Kentish Town. The third is from Blaker Road in Brighton. In all three places local estate agents report that houses in these coloured streets sell better than otherwise identical colourless houses in neighbouring streets.





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



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:


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