Monday, 19 December 2011


Red was the colour surrounding me as I toured a new elementary school in America recently. Not just any red but really scarlet - the photographs are deceiving in appearing rather orange. The colour identified a learning hub, a group of classrooms round a central flexible learning area.

Entering into the hub, past the well designed 'open' bathrooms, the walls, ceiling and further in the floor were all dominated by this vibrant, bold colour. I have to say that many of the visiting professionals I was with didn't like it - they thought it was just too much and unlike the other areas of different hubs.
There is considerable research and psychology around colours for learning, varying by age and purpose of area - the choices here were an interesting and brave decision. The Principal assured us that the students and staff really liked it, as did the architects (but they would, wouldn't they.)
However, I do have to agree with my friend, massively respected education architect and planner; Randall Fielding of FNI in his article 'Learning, Lighting and Colour - Lighting Design for - Schools and Universities in the 21st Century' when he comments on the use of primary colours for young students.
"Often the the strategy is expressed that brightly lit, primary colours are the best environments for young children. This is not born out by any reputable research. In fact, experience has sown that children are wonderfully sensitive and responsive to nuances in both lighting and colour. For example, children are particularly attuned to the colours of nature and human skin tones, and yet these are completely out of the primary range. Primary colours can be harsh..."
I am not against the colour red being used but, to quote Randy again, "All colours have a place for learners of all ages, when used thoughtfully".
I have to admit though, when seeing the great slab of red as we entered the learning hub, to not being convinced about the way it is used here, but.... what do you think?


Daniel said...

Red is the only colour the eye has physically evolved to recognise and react to. It is quite physically a colour of danger. The eye then only reacts to contrast. The value of colour has a better use in memory of place, wayfinding and association.
So there are perhaps more sophisticated ways to use colour.

Gareth Long said...

Thanks for the comment Daniel.... I think a more sophisticated approach maybe an understatement. Don't get me wrong I love the use of colour in schools, and dislike standard 'institutional' one colour solutions. This is just quite a blunt response in my view.