Blue was the natural semiotic choice for Arup’s National Aquatics Water
Centre, or Water Cube, for the Beijing Olympics in 2008
It is regularly debated within the lighting community whether to use colour at all in certain projects. The vast majority of lighting designers agree that coloured light in any form is not appropriate for historic architecture. This agreement, however, conflicts with archaeological
evidence which reveals that Greek temples and Gothic
cathedrals were once covered in saturated colours. And
yet if any colour can be seen dominating in our night-time environment, it is blue. Why?
Many designers talk about emotional response to light
and colours. Maybe lighting designers use so much
blue because of the positive emotions it elicits. Blue is
found pleasant, calming and restful. It is also the top
colour in studies about colour preference.
We strongly associate colour with corporate identity.
If we mention Coca Cola red, we know exactly what
colour we’re talking about. Companies are well aware
of this and take full advantage of the fact. They also
exploit colours and emotional associations: green for
natural, black for masculine, and so on. Company
logos and company identity colours go hand in hand.
Colours used at night-time often signify the occupier
of the building. In my experience, whenever a client or
public body is asked to select a colour, blue is usually
the only colour that has gained universal consent. Most
corporate logos are either blue or red.
This answer describes the process of how the colour
was determined, yet it does not answer the ‘why’. Why
do clients agree on blue, why do magazine editors
select the blue image in preference to the others, why is
it the favoured corporate colour of the client?
It is worth beginning with a look at the cultural and
historic background. Humans have used colours from
the very beginning – first to paint themselves and their
attire, and then, uniquely, to paint manmade objects.
In the early civilisations all the way to the Renaissance
colours were not used for their aesthetically pleasing
properties, but for their meaning and symbolism.
Every colour carried a meaning, which was commonly
understood. As mysticism governed life, so did colours
symbolise gods and unearthly forces. Nothing in
humankind’s surroundings was placed arbitrarily.
Jewellery was a protective amulet, tomb decorations
told stories, colours were thought to heal the body.
Even abstract patterns had a definition associated with
gods, life and death. The colour palette of early human
beings was simple – bright primary colours, black, ▼