Colour in architecture - Colour design for the ‘Branchen Versicherung Schweiz’

After an interview with Catherine Burkhard and Nora Fata from burkhard & fata farbgestaltung


They are by no means only interested in “beautiful surfaces”, no. They are specialists who purposefully create and implement colour and material concepts. This is a talk with colour designers, with professionals who deal with colour in construction. They use a broad knowledge of effect and history of colour to create their colour and material concepts. In collaboration with builders, architects and craftsmen, colour designers create visually attractive living spaces and support high-quality building culture.


Commissioned by the ‘Branchen Versicherung Schweiz’, burkhard & fata farbgestaltung created a colour concept for all walls of the office premises. For the two colour designers, this meant creating a coherent concept of colours, which included an entrance, a corridor, a reception, a large 'representative' boardroom, a small think-tank meeting room and a cafeteria. But also existing items such as the linoleum floor, the white acoustic panels on the ceiling or yellow and orange USM furniture included. The colour function in the house of ‘Branchen Versicherung Schweiz’ is presented by the two colour designers as follows: “The classic and sober interior design of the office space held in white, grey, metal and glass shall be given a new identity through colour. The colour concept should optimally absorb the existing colours and materials and form a new complete set. The sequence of colours that evolves all through different zones marks different ways of using colour. Colour creates a fresh, modern and yet timeless atmosphere.”

Following Le Corbusier's idea that colour in architecture is just as powerful as the layout and the cut, Catherine Burkhard and Nora Fata have used Le Corbusier's Architectural Polychromy as the basis for their colour concept. “The polychromatic colours used in architecture by Le Corbusier, developed in 1931, form the basis of the colour concept. The timeless colour palette is balanced in itself and still has a classic freshness and quality to this day. Starting from this point, we have derived the concepts of ‘tradition and innovation’.” These are two points that correspond to the mission statement and image of BVS (‘Branchen Versicherung Schweiz’). The task(s) of colour in architecture can thus be seen as a reinforcement and / or underlining of the meaningfulness of the premises, but also for the artistic underlining of the rooms’ effect. When asked what the most important tasks of colour in architecture are, the Haus der Farbe director, Mrs. Steffanie Wettstein, says: “Colour can be used strategically to orchestrate spatial sequences or to visualise tectonics, it can support light and shadow, make surfaces an optical and haptic experience and much more. Colour is one of the oldest architectural design elements – colourless architecture does not exist.”


The colour concept


“We are interested in having an open and free look at an object and then developing a surprising and new design in the process. For four years now, our enthusiasm for colour and material in art and architecture has driven us with great intensity to raise questions about space and colour and their effect on humans. In our two-person team, we can optimally combine our individual and shared long-term knowledge of design, art, mediation, colour and space,” say Nora Fata and Catherine Burkhard. It is important to them that colour designers and interior designers are not simply perceived as colourful “beautifiers”. Le Corbusier already said that colour was a trigger of powerful effects. Thus, it turns out that colour designers should play an important role during the construction or renovation. For Fata and Burkhard, architecture is revealed through form as well as location. “... how and where does it fit into the urban planning space, how do the buildings and volumes behave in their arrangement and how do people live in the area? Through this analysis, we get an overall picture as a starting point for the colour and material concept. We want to put the condensate of a sharper analysis in relation with the present time so as to find a specific, new solution.”

For each of the rooms, a specific colour concept has been created. For example, the small conference room “represents a certain dynamic and should be a place of creation. Here, people should think and thoughts should flow together. The movable chairs support this dynamic.” Burkhard and Fata have incorporated the freshness and dynamism that the room is supposed to radiate into the colour choice. They are fresh Le Corbusier colours that converge in a triad. The bar table in the canteen, on the other hand, should be the centerpiece of the meeting place. The large-scale diamond pattern together with the lighting concept supports this clearly.


As specialists, burkhard & fata farbgestaltung focused their work on a partial aspect in architecture that rarely attracts much attention from architects. However, this aspect should always be related to the concepts and ideas of the architects. “From the lively exchange between the client, the architect and the specialist arises a differentiated and high-quality colour and material concept during the building process, which strengthens the architecture. Ideally, everyone is involved right from the start.” Burkhard and Fata have used eight shades of Le Corbusier's colour scheme for the BVS. These were:

  • 32031- céruléen vif, used in the small meeting room The bright coel blue. Warm, sensual and mediterranean. The colour strives for the viewer.
  • 32032 - céruléen moyen, used in the large meeting room The summer sky. Static, no longer protruding.
  • 32033 - céruléen clair, deployment in the corridor The sky reflected in the water. Subordinates itself. The second murale 'heaven' sound.
  • 32110 - l`ocre rouge, used in the corridor The red of ancient architecture. An earthy and deep glowing hue.
  • 32121 - terre sienne brique, used in the small meeting room, canteen and corridor The bright brick red. Suitable for timeless colour combinations.
  • 32141 - ombre naturelle moyenne, used in the large meeting room and corridor The grey-brown natural umbra. A balanced, aesthetic and attractive colour.
  • 4320F- vert olive vif, used in small meeting room and canteen The olive green. Green-yellow or yellow-green? A unique classic.
  • 4320M - le rubis, used in the large meeting room and canteen The ruby. It is dark and luminous, velvety, festive and luxurious.

For Burkhard and Fata, the colour design is seen as a complementary view of the architecture, which also strengthens it. “The colour design develops itself out of its context, out of the structural substance, the surfaces and the light. It refers to its users and creates an independent yet self-evident effect.” 

Colour in architecture - is too much colour possible?


Everybody asks himself this question – whether it's clothing, hair or the colour scheme in a room. Colours affect our lives, convey energy and have character. The natural and harmonious colours of the Architectural Polychromy create moods. The colours chosen by Le Corbusier are harmonious in themselves and can be combined impressively in all variants and forms. What is essential, especially in architecture, since colours rarely appear on their own. Therefore, colours and their combination possibilities are essential – especially for a colour concept for interior design and also the choice of colours in architecture. “Colour depends on context, space, quality, density, intensity, quantity, combination and light. So what is ‘a lot of colour’? A small, intense spot in a room can be perceived as a lot of colour,” say Nora Fata and Catherine Burkhard. In their opinion, all surfaces such as walls, ceilings and floors can appear in different but finely tuned shades and yet be perceived as not “much colour”. On the other hand, if the combinations are in an insensitive imbalance, colour is perceived as disturbing.


Le Corbusier’s colours were consciously used by burkhard & fata farbgestaltung in the colour concept for the BVS. “With a colour palette consisting of 8 shades, an interplay of warm and cool colours emerges, the colours react to the sober architecture and create warmth and atmosphere for humans. The colours are put together in different triads which, depending on the arrangement, have a different effect. In addition, with the language of form, which leads from large, wall-filling colour to the wallpaper-like pattern, the respective use of the rooms is discussed. The dynamics and appearance change in the sequence of the rooms.” The colour scheme thus created a new and modern traditional dress. It is when dealing with the BVS order that burkhard & fata farbgestaltung have been working with the colours of Le Corbusier for the first time. None of them has a favorite colour in the Architectural Polychromy (for now). two. “Every single colour comes with its own power. For us, colour is always decisive and exciting in its combination with other colours. Le Corbusier’s colours enlighten a certain form of classicism for us.”

Photography Copyright:
© Hannah Grüninger | Le Corbusier colours at ‘Branchenversicherung Schweiz in Zurich’
© burkhard & fata farbgestaltung | Construction phase, plans and before ‘Branchenversicherung Schweiz’

Contact Color design, color and material concept ‘Branchen Versicherung Schweiz’
burkhard & fata farbgestaltung
Cartherine Burkhard und Nora Fata
Kleinstrasse 16
CH - 8008 Zurich
The interior atelier sert was used for the lighting, table and chairs in the small meeting room and reception by burkhard & fata farbgestaltung.

Paint supplier of the original Les Couleurs® Le Corbusier colours (brand poLyChro®) for the project
Wiesgasse 1
CH-9444 Diepoldsau

The course "Color design in construction" is offered by the following university:
Haus der Farbe
Fachschule und Institut für Gestaltung in Handwerk und Architektur
Langwiesstrasse 34
CH – 8050 Zurich

BSFA - Federation of Swiss Color Designers in Architecture (Bund Schweizer FarbgestalterInnen in der Architektur) 

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Color and therefore the perception of color are liable for a spread of psychological stimuli and affect how we experience the surrounding spaces. It's one among the few constants of our world. And yet you would possibly have wondered just what its role in architecture is. Color will always remain an important a part of our design and architectural environment.

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