How to use Le Corbusier’s colour keyboards for perfect colour concepts, every time

How do you, as an architect or a designer, create a colour palette that not only speaks to the architectural and design elements, but also forms the very foundation of what has been created?

Creating a colour palette that leaves no room for error comes down to combining human subjectivity with standardisation and a logical system. This is no simple task, but it’s exactly what Le Corbusier‘s Architectural Polychromy allows, primarily through the use of colour keyboards.

"These Keyboards of Colour aim at stimulating personal selection, by placing the task of choosing on a sound systematic basis. In my opinion they offer a method of approach which is accurate and effective, one which makes it possible to plan, in the modern home, colour harmonies which are definitely architectural and yet suited to the natural taste and needs" – Le Corbusier.

(Source: Fondation Le Corbusier, online “Salubra, claviers de couleur, LE CORBUSIER, 1931 »)


Le Corbusier’s colour keyboards: when abstraction and logic come together

To enable the perfect colour selection, Le Corbusier devised colour palettes that resemble a piano’s ‘keyboards’ (or Les Claviers de Couleurs). Each colour keyboard complements Le Corbusier’s colour collections of 1931 and 1959, and represents a mood or specific function. For the 43-colour 1931 collection, Le Corbusier created 13 colour keyboards: each keyboard groups a set of three colour bands to evoke a feeling or atmosphere1 (such as ‘Sky’, ‘Space’, or ‘Scenery’). Each keyboard effectively works as a visual aid to display three to five colours that contrast best with each other.

Le Corbusier devised the colour keyboards when he was contracted to work for Salubra, a Swiss wallpaper company, in 1930. As Schindler (2004)2 states: “[Le Corbusier] invented a sophisticated colour selection machine for the company’s customers. Conceived as an instrument or kind of book which could be folded and unfolded up to four times, the invention provided the user with the possibility of comparing larger colour strips with smaller colour samples as well with large colour sheets. Le Corbusier specified the colours of the different keyboards. Each colour keyboard followed a strict ordering system to enhance associative colour combinations.”

In 1959, Le Corbusier expanded his unique colour system with 20 colours that were more bold, intense and dynamic, along with an additional colour keyboard. To make the selection of colours and their combination foolproof, Le Corbusier created a sliding cardboard cutout (or ‘glasses’), so that colours can be easily isolated, and to allow the viewer to see how three to five shades can appear together. With the colour keyboard ‘glasses’ for the 1931 collection, you can isolate two to three tones on a background hue, as well as a single tone on two background hues. With the 1959 collection’s ‘glasses’, three or four colours can be isolated and matched.

Of course, the choice of all 63 colours in Le Corbusier’s Architectural Polychromy are entirely subjective – he was an artist-architect, and not only did he believe that colour should serve as an architectural foundation, but he was also deeply fascinated by how colour affects human emotions and our sense of the world.

As an architect or designer, any colour selection within Le Corbusier’s colour system will be determined by you and your unique sensibilities. However, the colour keyboards can show you what combinations work best together, what colour should be an atmospheric paint (used for an entire wall), or what should just be used as an accent colour3. Le Corbusier’s colour keyboards offer something truly unique: a systemic, logical method of colour selection for something that is feeling-based and subjective. The result is no possibility for mistakes, and a perfect colour concept.

Colour concepts rooted in architecture

Le Corbusier’s colour keyboards go beyond colour matching and evoking atmospheres or ‘moods’. His colour keyboards are based on the Architectural Polychromy colour system, which consists of 63 inherently architectural colours. Each colour is standardised and can be combined with the other 62 colours, or they can be used separately to achieve specific spatial effects (such as highlighting objects in the foreground, or camouflaging elements in the background). Le Corbusier’s Architectural Polychromy and the colour keyboards are rooted in architecture: they will give assurance to your colour concepts, and, when working with Les Couleurs® Le Corbusier, the colour keyboards can be a vital addition to your design and architectural toolkit.

Ultimately, Le Corbusier’s colour keyboards can systematically guide an intuitive, abstract process of colour selection, and allow for the perfect colour combinations, accents, and spatial effects, every time.

More information at: https://www.lescouleurs.ch/en/the-colours/colour-keyboards/

Photos: Copyright Les Couleurs Suisse AG

1 The last three colour keyboards in the palette (Checkered I, II and III) don’t evoke a mood or atmosphere, and they are not based on a specific order; instead, they allow for arbitrary combinations and experimentation

2 Prefabricated rolls of oil paint: Le Corbusier’s 1931 colour keyboards (Verena M. SCHINDLER, 2004): http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.576.5185&rep=rep1&type=pdf

3https://www.fastcompany.com/3066011/le-cobusiers-color-theories-explained

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