Natural or Artificially Pigmented Materials? Exploring Color Variations and their Effects
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Natural or Artificially Pigmented Materials? Exploring Color Variations and their Effects

Aug 26, 2023

Materiality is a determining factor in shaping the character and experience of a building. Playing with the aesthetic and tactile qualities of materials, the design process encompasses their analysis, selection, and arrangement to create purposeful and sensory-rich spaces. Alongside textures and patterns, exploring materiality also involves the study of color possibilities. The versatile role of color in architectural materials extends beyond mere aesthetics, as it can broaden design opportunities and influence emotional responses, functionality, cultural relevance, and environmental performance.

Even though each material has its distinctive inherent color, the addition of artificial or natural pigments can modify them in favor of the project’s identity. Delving into the debate on maintaining raw aesthetics or changing a material’s natural hues, we showcase various projects to study the differences between using natural versus artificial pigmentation of glass, concrete, brick, stone and wood.

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Fostering a lighter architecture, glass has become a staple material in contemporary design. Characterized by its transparency and versatility, it enables the creation of open spaces with seamless transitions between the interior and exterior. Besides allowing natural light to brighten spaces and offering views of the surroundings, glass also creates interior partitions that divide spaces while maintaining visual connections. Glass is naturally colorless. In its pure form, it is primarily composed of quartz sand (also known as silica), which is a transparent material ideal for creating spaces in search of light such as greenhouses.

A colorless material that enhances the transparency of a greenhouse

Extending the 19th-century greenhouse, the new design features a glass structure with fully exposed side walls, seamlessly merging the interior with the green surroundings. The transparency of the glass invites visitors to connect with their heritage and genetic discoveries in the gallery without visual barriers.

Transparency for an open space in connection with nature

The material’s transparency allows all rooms to overlook the open landscape, and when the long row of glass doors is open, these spaces are transformed into alcoves along the covered terrace. A glass roof surface facing the west allows for views of the green valley to be enjoyed from the inside.

When a design calls for adding color to its surface, colored glass is made by incorporating specific metal oxides or other compounds into the glass melt during the glassmaking process. Different coloring agents create various hues, with iron producing green or brown glass, cobalt resulting in deep blue, manganese enhancing purple, selenium creating red, and nickel or uranium used for producing different shades of green or fluorescent glass. Further processing involves cutting, polishing, or assembling the glass into finished solutions like stained glass, used, for example, to highlight the connection between two different materials in Manuel Maia Gomes’ gallery. Other interesting uses of colored glass in architecture include:

Red mirrored glass facade

In harmony with Washington University’s crimson red, the mirrored colored glass facade reflects and integrates the building into the campus, generating an inviting allure that announces the presence of art.

Multicolored glass framed structure for a contemporary take on stained glass

Incorporating 3M dichroic film throughout the office layout, this multi-level steel-and-glass framed structure aims to create a contemporary interpretation of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia and its use of stained glass.

Concrete’s strength, durability, and versatility make it a widely used building material that adapts to various formworks, allowing for complex shapes, curves, and patterns. Concrete is composed of a mixture of cement, aggregates (such as sand and gravel), and water. The color of the mixture’s raw materials contributes to its natural, typically grayish hue in its plain form, though the appearance can vary slightly depending on the specific ingredients used.

Utilizing exposed concrete and allowing its natural texture and appearance to be showcased in architectural projects, such as the structure of Guha mixed-use space, enables architects to enhance the raw aesthetics of materials.

The primitive quality of raw concrete surfaces

Restoring an originally oppressive space surrounded by beams, this new pavilion is gently lifted by a poured concrete base and suspended in the middle of the site. The dismantling process revealed the original concrete texture and color, which embraces raw aesthetics and exudes a primitive quality on its surface.

Raw aesthetics that blend in with the existing stone environment

Capturing the changes brought about by an earthquake, the Smritivan memorial design strives for users to experience how nature gradually evolves into an ecosystem that integrates with built forms. This is why the use of concrete allows for the creation of organic forms like circular rings, which maintain the material’s natural color to express the authenticity of the process.

On the other hand, the addition of pigments to a concrete mixture (in powdered or liquid form) further expands the possibilities for creating spaces with unique identities. Just as Luis Barragán’s use of brightly colored concrete revolutionized the traditional architecture of Mexico, pigmented concrete offers a different approach to imbuing materials with a new look in line with the project’s intentions. Colored concrete projects play with different aesthetics, for example:

Monochrome tones of red concrete

Maintaining a monochrome color palette, the incorporation of the red hue signifies the color of the soil itself. The integration of a colored concrete floor unifies the overall scheme into a monolithic entity, giving the impression of a house emerging from the ground.

Crafted fabrication for pigmented concrete walls

The design of this heavy and angular rectangular prism, which resonates with the site’s corners, incorporates a secondary red-pigmented wall. Despite introducing an artificial hue to the material, the soft red shade aligns with the meticulously crafted layout lines.

Brick masonry construction has shaped human civilization throughout different periods. Combining the skills of bricklayers and the techniques of brickmaking, it is a material known for its durability, versatility, and characteristic aesthetic appeal. Each brick’s unique look, with various dimensions, shapes, and colors, allows for multiple layout possibilities.

Depending on the type of clay and the duration of the firing process (where longer heating results in a darker red tone), bricks typically range from lighter to darker shades of reddish-brown. This color variation results from the iron oxide in the clay, which becomes more pronounced during firing. Whether maintaining each brick’s natural individual character, as Pasco House Renovation does, or making them all look the same by coloring them through surface treatment, this material adapts to the purpose of each project.

Integrating natural stacked bricks with vinaceous water

Enhancing the ambiance alongside an irrigation pool tinted in deep red, the project maintains a raw and natural aesthetic through the use of rough cement plaster blended with the site’s soil. In addition, a stacked light red brick floor creates the illusion of extending the pool into the site.

Reused and recovered light-colored bricks from local brickyard waste

Inspired by the vernacular language of its surroundings, the design integrates materials serving distinct purposes. The brick base, delineating functional elements, is composed of reused and recovered bricks from a local brickyard, boasting natural red hues that symbolize the passage of time.

Within its wide range of possibilities, adding color to brick surfaces allows for highlighting separate zones and enhancing the material’s presence, as well as creating distinctive layouts inspired by local patterns, as seen in Kushi Bhawan’s facade, which uses three different colors representing the geographical diversity of the region. Brickwork styles vary through different projects such as:

Traditional Victorian patterns with a contemporary language

Giving a twist to traditional materials, the house’s contemporary layout shares the visual language of the pattern-book brick Victorian Houses. Emphasizing brick as the primary building element, the design imparts a warm red color to its facade.

Exploring colors and layouts to differentiate walls

Using color to distinguish elements and space, the project’s brickwork incorporates shades of red, white, and grey hues, segmented by specific angles and creating varied wall patterns. The uniform-sized bricks are further enhanced by being painted in three different colors, each corresponding to their area of application.

Able to withstand the test of time, stone is a high-strength building material able to resist weathering, erosion, and decay. Its natural colors, patterns, and textures can be shaped into various forms, from shelters to cathedrals. This historically significant material is still incorporated into contemporary designs, blending tradition and innovation.

Natural stones used in construction, like granite, marble, limestone and sandstone, have varying hues and tones based on their location and mineral composition. In various colors including grey, pink, white, black, brown and green, granite adapts to different styles. Often associated with classic white, marble also plays with shades of grey, black, green, or pink, as seen in the local pink and white marble of Casa do Monte, where the material’s veins and patterns add a unique character to each slab. Limestone ranges from light beige to greyish tones, while sandstone exhibits shades of yellow, red, and brown, influenced by materials such as iron oxide.

Building with ancient natural colored stones

The selection of sandstone as a building material enables it to make a distinct impression while seamlessly integrating with the town’s familiar texture. Using red shades of old local stone slabs for the curved textured surface adds a profound artistic expression. During the mounting process, the color distribution is controlled to enhance the inherent variations in natural shades.

Respecting the original materiality of lime and quarry stone

Transforming an existing 16th-century structure using traditional materials such as limestone green quarry stone, the project respects the original materiality of the building. This respectful approach is reflected in the project’s light reddish tones.

Stones may undergo additional enhancements to achieve specific colors for particular purposes, as seen in different renovation projects like Ca sa Verdurera House. In this case, the challenge was to propose a new illuminated and white space without excessively modifying the original thick stone walls to avoid compromising the structure. Other design approaches using stone include:

Whitening stone surfaces

With a small color palette, the project seamlessly integrates the existing elements with the new proposal. While the original stone walls remain exposed, they have been gently whitened to amplify the overall color strategy.

Illuminating with white pigmentation

This project rehabilitates a 16th-century Castilian mansion that suffered fire damage, leaving only stone walls, a staircase, and the voussoirs on the collapsed arches as reminders. In order to enhance natural light, the design strategy combines the installation of skylights with the incorporation of white shades into the materiality.

The properties of wood may vary depending on the species, moisture content, and construction techniques used. This versatility allows it to blend harmoniously with its natural surroundings or evoke a rustic atmosphere, as seen in projects like Hribljane House, where the raw material’s color enhances the aesthetics.

The natural color of wood is determined by the species from which it is derived. It can be classified into three categories: light, medium, and dark woods. Light woods, such as maple, birch, and pine, exhibit light cream and yellow to pale brown shades with reddish or golden tones. Medium woods, including oak, cherry, and walnut, range from light brown to medium or dark brown with grain or reddish undertones. Dark woods, such as mahogany, teak, and rosewood, feature colors that range from deep reddish-brown to dark black streaks.

Raw wood for structural and aesthetic purposes

Blending harmoniously with its surroundings, the house’s structural skeleton is crafted from raw wood. Using natural materials for all final layers, the raw aesthetics are defined by a range of wood tones that shift in response to external environmental effects.

Natural light wooden tones for interiors

Maintaining the natural color of the wood in the project’s interior aligns with its biodegradable design approach. By leveraging its biodegradable properties, exposing natural wood reduces energy consumption and enhances a comfortable space.

In addition to color changes due to exposure to light, air, and other environmental factors, wood can be altered using various techniques. Staining, painting, bleaching, or dying the wood enables opportunities for projects like the Refuge Forest Cabin Vlieland to transform wood, giving it a new appearance that follows the design’s purpose. Architects have developed multiple projects that beautifully integrate different types of wood, such as:

Mixing wood color treatments

With wood as the primary building material, this project employs color to distinguish between interior and exterior materiality. While the interior enhances an illuminated and spacious atmosphere, the darker exterior harmonizes with the surrounding colors and textures.

Picturing a red cabin in the middle of the green forest

With a timber frame construction and a red-stained larch wood facade cladding, this project seamlessly integrates into its natural surrounding while standing out among the forest’s trees.

For more ideas on natural or artificial ways of applying color to building materials, take a look at these examples:

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This article is part of the ArchDaily Topics: Color in Architecture presented by Sto.Material, texture, sheen, and color are inseparable – the identity of a building becomes clear in an Architect’s choices of how these come together. Considering the lifecycle of a building from design, occupation, and legacy, we understand that achieving the right expression is tantamount to the success of a building. Sto’s innovative materials and data-driven color system complement design ambitions with technical knowledge and rigorous testing, to offer possibilities, accuracy, and longevity when Building in Color.Produced by Sto, the short documentary ‘Building in Colour’ is a cinematic exploration into the role of materials and color in architecture, taking the work of Stirling Prize-winning architect Michael Wilford CBE (1938 – 2023) as its starting point.Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and architecture projects. We invite you to learn more about our ArchDaily Topics. And, as always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.

Camila PrietoGlass: Transparencies, reflections, and colored layersA colorless material that enhances the transparency of a greenhouseTransparency for an open space in connection with natureRed mirrored glass facadeMulticolored glass framed structure for a contemporary take on stained glassConcrete: The power of raw and colored texturesThe primitive quality of raw concrete surfacesRaw aesthetics that blend in with the existing stone environmentMonochrome tones of red concreteCrafted fabrication for pigmented concrete wallsBrickwork: Mix and match of earthy-toned huesIntegrating natural stacked bricks with vinaceous waterReused and recovered light-colored bricks from local brickyard wasteTraditional Victorian patterns with a contemporary languageExploring colors and layouts to differentiate wallsStone: Timeless appeal of light and natural tonesBuilding with ancient natural colored stonesRespecting the original materiality of lime and quarry stoneWhitening stone surfacesIlluminating with white pigmentationWood: Natural and color-treatment possibilitiesRaw wood for structural and aesthetic purposes Natural light wooden tones for interiorsMixing wood color treatmentsPicturing a red cabin in the middle of the green forest This article is part of the ArchDaily Topics: Color in Architecture presented by Sto.