Colourful Cambridge Campaign


Quick Fire Presentation


The following is the text of a three minute talk given by Alex Reid as one of the Quick Fire Presentations at an event organised by the Cambridge Association of Architects on 16th July 2010.

Look around you in Cambridge, and you will see thousands of buildings, old and new, which have their facades rendered and painted. Look again and you will see that 95% of these are painted in the blandest possible colours - white, magnolia, or cream. It's probably much the same in any town in the UK.

Why is this? After all nature and science has gifted us a rich spectrum of paint colours.

I think the answer is that British society, unlike many in Africa or Asia, is dreadfully repressed when it comes to colour. Perhaps we suffer from a northern reserve. Perhaps it is a continuing streak of Cromwellian Puritanism. The Puritans banished bright colours from clothes and buildings. They felt that colour signified frivolity and even debauchery, and would lead us into sin.

I say they were wrong. What is frivolous or debauched about the blue sky, the green grass, or the golden sunset? Colour, I suggest, is something that we should celebrate and enjoy, in the same way that we enjoy music and poetry.

And I would urge that we start right here in Cambridge, by setting ourselves the ambition of making Cambridge the most colourful city in the country. We have a unique historic core to the City. But much of Cambridge, built in the 19th and 20th century, is frankly ordinary. With bolder use of colour those parts of Cambridge could become special.

Colour is not expensive.  Colourful paint costs no more than white paint. Indeed it costs less in the long run, because it will weather better and need re-painting less often.

Colour lifts the spirits. Who can resist the colourful beach huts at Southwold, or the colourful boats in any fishing port?

Colour is democratic. Each householder can make their own choice of colour, without planning permission, and without professional advice.  

Finally, colour gives identity - to cities, to neighbourhoods, and to individual homes. You are living at No.19 in a terrace of 40 houses on a Cambridge Council estate all painted an identical cream. How dull. How impersonal. Just like the Soviet Union. Imagine now that each of the 40 houses is painted in a different colour, like some streets in Brighton and Notting Hill. And imagine that you have chosen the colour for your own house. Suddenly you are an individual, not a number. You can say to visitors: We live in No.19. It's the blue house.


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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