Architecture and Color

Every city has treasured monuments; beautiful old buildings that are either crumbling messes, or lovingly restored. I am always fascinated by what the original designers planned for a site or structure, and how their designs are interpreted today. Were all marble-clab facades white? Certainly not.
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The San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts, originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), is currently undergoing a lengthy facelift that started back in 2004. When it was rebuilt in concrete in the 1960's, the roof was all gray concrete. The re-roofing project (the first phase of the restoration of the rotunda, colonnades, lagoon and landscape), returned the dome to a color similar to its original hue.

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This is the part that really strikes me:
The PPIE color palette was designed by Jules Guerin, who said that color was
“...the magic quality our public buildings have missed so long. For color, like music, is the language of emotion...With it, we may bring to the inanimate surface the joy of the warmth of sunlight and vibration, and borrowing inspiration from the painter’s palette, help our architecture at last to find its soul.” (source)
Isn't that a wonderful philosophy?
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All previous world fairs has all but lacked any color. Chicago acquired the name "The White City" for the coloring of its buildings and its broad use of "staff," a temporary, marble-looking plaster coating on each of the exhibit halls. A pure marble white produced a harsh glare, something Guerin found particularly hard on the eyes in the California sunlight as well as interrupting the harmony of the walled city. Guerin further believed that pure white had a certain "new effect" which he considered deadly to art. (source)

Interesting! I totally agree about pure white being too harsh in most environments, but many gallery owners would disagree with me...So where did he come up with the palette? Here's an artist's rendering of what the site used to look like, in all it's glory.
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Jules Guerin chose colors he saw in San Francisco and the surrounding area: deep cerulean from the ocean and the sky, greens and gold from the hills of Marin and the East Bay, and subdued hues found in the clay and sand hills of San Francisco. Guerin’s color accents recalled the Orient: rich bronze and copper patina, terra cotta, and above all, the mellow tones of travertine marble, an ivory pink color.(source)

French Green
Oxidized Copper Green
Blue Green
Deep Cerulean Blue
Oriental Blue
Yellow Golden Orange
Pinkish Red Gold
Terra Cotta
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Everyone, from the architects and gardeners, were required to work within the predetermined palette of nine colors. No detail was ignored: statues, guard uniforms, flowers, even the color of the gravel on paths had to fit within this color scheme. To enhance the colors, they employed tricks like tinting the bottom of the lagoon with blue paint. Here are some more examples:
  • French green for garden lattices
  • Deep cerulean blue in recessed panels and ceiling vaults
  • Pink-orange for flagpoles
  • Pinkish-red flecked with brown for the background of colonnades
  • Golden-burnt-orange for moldings and small domes
  • Terra cotta for other domes
  • Gold for statuary
  • Antique green for urns and vases.
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So, there's your crash course in history for the day. Don't you feel more well-rounded now?
If you're interested in more details, the book The Jewel City is a great source.