Deciding on a Primary Colour

Incorporating primary colours into a design can often be overwhelming.  Everyone knows that it is impossible to create the three pigment colours (red, yellow and blue) by mixing any other colours.  The three primaries are mixed to create all other colours and can be combined with white or black to create tints (lighter tones) and shades (darker hues) of these colours. 

Le Corbusier's Architectural Polychromy offers 63 intriguing shades derived from nature, which were created in two colour collections – the first in 1931 (full of rich neutral tones and deep jewel shades), and the second in 1959 (comprising of bolder hues).  All shades are fundamentally architectural, naturally harmonious and can be configured in a multitude of colour combinations. Le Corbusier wasn’t averse to incorporating primary colours in his designs, so it’s no surprise that he incorporated some highly pigmented colours into his Architectural Polychromy.  32020 Bleu Outremer 31 from the 1931 collection was one of Le Corbusier’s preferred primaries, often complemented by 4320A Rouge Vermillon 31 from the same collection.  4320W Le Jaune Vif was added in the 1959 collection and injected joy to many of Le Corbusier’s creations. 

Theoretically speaking, primary colours are the root of every other colour; and we recognize that colour is not an exact science.  For instance, mixing paint pigment is another story: when mixing ultramarine blue and cadmium red, the result will not be a rich deep violet, but a non-descript brown.  The primaries are always at the top of any colour structure: envisage them as being the original 3 parents of all the future generations of colour.  Primary colours are, by definition, the main colours used, but it’s interesting when introducing secondary or tertiary colours alongside, the eye automatically extracts the primaries from a mixed palette and all the colours on the fan deck actually appear more pigmented.  

A favourite with architects worldwide, Unité d’habitation in Marseille, is celebrated as one of the most influential Brutalist buildings of all time.  Le Corbusier embraced bright, vibrant primaries in various combinations and juxtaposed them with his preferred material of brise soleil in both the façade and interior of La Cité Radieuse, or "the radiant city" as Le Corbusier referred to it.  Le Corbusier’s initial rendering of the multi-purpose space was done in colour and the three primaries are prominent throughout.  Its 337 apartments can accommodate 1,600 residents> The complex also houses shopping streets, a hotel and a rooftop terrace.

Using primary colours in a design adds boldness, fun and promotes activity and learning – this is why the primaries are used so extensively in preschools and places where you’d like to promote a sense of dynamism and vivacity.  Red is a colour of heat, braveness, passion and intensity; it symbolizes luck and good fortune in many countries; it is exotic and can be daring but is also heaped in inspiration from nature – visualise the red of a chilli pepper to the delicate petal of a poppy – both can be an inspiration to schemes where otherwise a primary colour may feel too striking, but eye-catching accents of this opulent colour can often be sufficient to add a pop of drama and intrigue.

Le Corbusier’s Bleu Outremer 31 32020 is a magical colour. It is a vibrant, inspirational, uplifting and refreshing classic.  Despite being the most loved colour, it is surprising that blue is the most rarely occurring natural colour (except from the sea which covers some 71 per cent of the earth’s surface).  Picture a plentiful bluebell wood or a field filled with blue cornflowers and you will instantly recognize the linkage between blue and nature.  Cobalt blue only became accessible in the 19th Century when it began to be manufactured synthetically.  The rich base of a primary blue adds timelessness and is quite intense; whilst also inducing calm and peace.  Surveys have shown that people are very productive if working in a blue room. 

Le Jaune Vif 4320W has an almost bright mustard ochre hue, an extremely versatile primary which can be incorporated into almost any scheme.  Yellow brings joy, is complex, warm, bright and extremely architectural; it is reflective, and fills people with cheer, happiness and hope.  Yellow hues are seen as drivers for happiness – think of all the emojis that fill our social media.  Introduction of intense bright yellow into a scheme is welcomed by most people as it nurtures that feeling of warmth: even when incorporated as an accent colour it is a mood enhancer through its sunny, mentally stimulating effects and leads to optimism, spontaneity and aspirational energy. 

The less conventional Colour Model 2 created in 1878 by Ewald Hering, created a four-colour primary model, featuring the red, yellow, blue of Colour Model 1, but also recognizing green as a primary.  In this vein one could also consider Vert 59 4320G from Le Corbusier’s 1959 collection to be viewed as a primary, which is such an adaptable shade and can be incorporated into most scenarios. 

Many people are reticent about fully embracing the primaries, but interestingly, Le Corbusier believed that accent walls were the backbone of any significant interior.Nowadays, many interior designers and architects often perceive accent walls to be somewhat clichéd.  In many of his designs, Le Corbusier used colour to firstly enhance the volume of a space, and secondly, to emphasize specific objects.  There are so many ways to incorporate primary colours into a scheme, be it through colour blocking, incorporating them by way of an accent colour or pairing it with its complementary or supplementary on the colour wheel.  In any design it is always important to convey a message, to accurately express the way in which the user will use a space, so remember to create a space which has its own identity, somewhere that can trigger emotions.  Feel inspired by the primaries and analyse which one to incorporate next: remember they are all extremely architectural colours which need to be embraced accordingly.

Lesen Sie weitere spannende Artikel :

Colour Philosophy in Architecture and Design – Grey (All about the Grey Scale) - Part III. »

Colour Philosophy in Architecture and Design – Grey (A Dorian story) - Part I»


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