Saturated Space Research Cluster, Architectural Association
Commissioned Essay, 2013

I was asked to reflect on the role of color in architecture for the Saturated Space research group at the Architectural Association. I explored the notion of a “functional” color, an idea that was common in the 1950s among architects and interior designers. A revolution was underway at that time in the way products and environments were colorised. Coined by colorist Faber Birren in the 1930s, "functional color" was a banner that symbolised an empirical system of color selection. The essay tests Birren's intentions against the application of color at Lever House in New York, one of his most favoured architectural examples. The New York headquarters of Anglo-Dutch fats and oils conglomerate Unilever and its subsidiary Lever Brothers, much attention was lavished on the colorisation of both its outside (by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) and its inside (by Raymond Loewy Associates). And yet, most historical studies of Lever House to date haven’t penetrated its sleek, blue-green skin to reveal the color systems at work within.

Interior of Lever House executive floor designed by Raymond Loewy Associates featuring a fireplace, wood paneling, and rich textiles. Published in Interiors, August 1952.