Calatrava’s modern design of the Peace Bridge (current construction in Calgary, Canada) marks a departure from the architect/engineer’s favoured white and neutral colour schemes. This gives us pause to consider the importance of colour as an element in the modern design of architecture.
Historically, the Western taste has been culturally influenced by the Renaissance copying of ancient Greek and Roman stone architecture. These buildings, temples lying in bleached ruin however – no longer bare the brash blues and yellows archaeologists have since discovered were their main exterior colours. Statues, beautifully carved from the purest white marble (as for example, on the Parthenon) were in fact painted bright red, increasing their visibility from long distances under the Athenian sun. It would be interesting to speculate what sense and profound uses of colour we would have culturally inherited by these eye-popping schemes had they survived the ravages of Time.
An aspect of white is the way in which through light it captures a form’s sculptural, rather than linear quality, a factor that Santiago Calatrava, a trained artist and sculptor – aswell as architect and engineer – is keenly aware.
Gerret Reitveld’s 1923 ‘De Stijl’ Red Blue Chair serves a clear example, famous for its bright planar colour scheme. Colour’s impact can be appreciated when compared to its earlier and lesser-known all-white and natural ply versions created from 1918. Our perception of the form is significantly altered.
Colour serves to separate elements, drawing attention to abstract planes and lines. White instead tends to focus the eye on form’s integration. Calatrava’s neutral schemes from his most recognised complex bridge and building spaces appear unified, overtly sculptural, as if carved from a single body.
In recent work however, it appears Calatrava is exploring the possibilities and effects of bright infusions of colour. The City of Calgary’s proposed footbridge is one such project - its extreme design integration allowing for greater articulation through colour. As with the bright infusion purple with teh addition of ‘The Agora’ to his all-white City of Arts and Sciences, (Valencia Spain) Caltrava’s bright red schemes points to an exciting new stage in the architect’s career.
The looping coils of the Peace Bridge design disperses structural load more evenly than a typical post and span construction, increasing material efficiency while serving as a design element to support the tread of the span, reaching above to glass-shelter pedestrians from snow and wind. It is a masterfully integrated and woven structural form no less coherent for its distinctly ‘Canadian’ red.
This stunning animation (approx. 3 mins) captures the project through Calgary’s dramatic seasonal changes, and points to the creative evolution in the designs of one of the world’s most ‘colourful’ architects ♦