Colours that are chosen with intelligence and passion produce joy, create serene or joyous atmospheres and enhance the three-dimensional effect of a room - Karin Trautwein

Polychromy is the art of using multiple colours in architecture, sculpture and painting.

Even a monochrome colour scheme has to sit within a polychrome world. Lymesmith creates colour concepts which respond creatively to the local conditions and to the project requirements. We consider the colours of all materials (timber, steel, glass, stone) in a project, not just the paint colours. Lymesmith uses colour as material, as a compositional element of space, as texture, as something inherently playful, but also full of symbolism and cultural associations.

Le Corbusier’s Polychromy

Le Corbusier’s colour palettes were often developed via the ‘promenade architecturale’. He made his colour selections for buildings when they were near to completion, and he could move through the spaces sequentially, taking in changing views and lighting conditions. He used colour as a corrective and/or enhancing tool to intensify the interplay of light and shadow, to emphasis pleasing features, to set mood and atmosphere. The palette of colours he developed were based on local raw materials available at the time. He saw parallels between his colours and traditional ‘folk’ colour found in most cultures, such as black, white, ochre, red, brown, green and blue in a limited number of shades.

The technology of colour production has changed radically since the 1950’s. Whereas geographic regions traditionally had access to certain pigments which created cohesive local colour palettes virtually by default, in the post-war period this was replaced by standardised colour systems, synthetic pigments and an overwhelming amount of colour choice. Perhaps this is one reason many people today are afraid of choosing colours.

Polychromy in Contemporary Architecture

Architects today are not trained in polychromy, and often struggle with colour use. They tend to rely on standard neutral, or minimalist themes. Sometimes with a bold feature colour thrown in. A nice article to illustrate why you need Lymesmith and more colour in your next project is cited below …

True colours: the glorious polychromy of the past suggests a strong historical need for colour, despite current reductive fashions – color in architecture by Peter Davey, The Architectural Review

A Word About White

“One could, generalising slightly, easily make a small thought-experiment based on the whiteness of lime, a disinfectant that was once thrown into mass graves to prevent diseases from spreading. As early as the Renaissance, it functioned in the laboratories of alchemists as a bactericide. Hospitals used lime to whitewash and disinfect their walls, and soon the colour white became the equivalent of clean.

The Weather Project, Olaf Eliasson, Tate Modern 2003-2004

Christianity quickly adopted the purifying status of white light, for instance in the northern European Romanesque churches and later in the Protestant churches, in whose architecture the colour white became more and more dominant from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. By the time of industrialisation, when modernity also introduced its dogmas for a healthy, good life, the colour white was already deeply rooted in our culture as the only truly purifying colour. As the twentieth century developed, the modernists came to believe that an open and clean space was the best platform for the execution of artistic self-realization, and white made its way into the art galleries and museums, becoming the dominant colour of the institutional frame in which art was communicated – the so-called White Cube.

Imagine if lime by nature had been bright yellow; maybe the now well-known gallery formula would have been based on this colour – the Yellow Cube.

Then our history would have been altogether different.”

Olafur Eliasson


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