Living in Colour – Colour and Paint in the Modern Interior and Related Restoration Practices

International conference and workshops: 3-6 December 2019
University of Antwerp, Belgium

From our very first steps we are surrounded by colour: on cloths, on objects, in interiors, in nature – literally everywhere. In daily life colour becomes an aspect of our surroundings that we take for granted. Notwithstanding the omnipresence of colour and its apparent self-evidence, it proves to be difficult to get a grip on the phenomenon of colour as such. Despite all efforts to approach colour scientifically and methodically, it seems impossible to separate the scientific approach from the personal perception of colour. In contemporary projects with colour it is feasible to gather and incorporate data about our subjective perception; when dealing with historical colour use however, this is not possible. The question is: what is the most authentic approach to a holistic understanding of historical polychromy? How can we truthfully study and evaluate the use of historical colour? When dealing with colour in modernist interiors, an additional problem arises, the paradox of colour in the Modern Movement. Many proponents of modernism, for instance considered colour a ‘dishonest’ or ‘false’ element of architecture because it was not an inherent part of the construction. In addition, the propagation of projects through black and white photography nurtured the idea that modernist architecture was achromatic. This biased viewpoint proves to influence conservation and restoration professionals to this day. Regardless of the efforts of architecture historians on the Gesamtkunst practice in Modern Architecture, colour is still undervalued in the field of restoration. This neglect puts many modernist colour applications – and the modern interiors that contain them – at risk.

In response to this problem, the International Specialist Committee on Interior Design (ISC/ID) of DOCOMOMO International (the International Committee for the Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement) – in collaboration with the Faculty of Design Sciences, University of Antwerp – wishes to address the topic of modernist colour and architectural paint.

Already in 2002 the Specialist Committee on Technology (ISC/T) of DOCOMOMO International organized a seminar on the issue in collaboration with the KU Leuven Belgium. While this Modern Colour Technology seminar focussed on the technical and scientific aspects of colour restoration, the present initiative aims to engage wider expertise on colour and paint applications in Modern Movement interiors and related environments.

The conference relies on recent research which adopts an holistic and multidisciplinary approach and takes into account the full complexity of colour in modern interiors: from the materiality, texture and layering of paints and varnishes, over the play of light and shadow, daylight and artificial light, to the multiple effects of a variety of approaches to colour. The focus lies on research which incorporates empirical knowledge and practice while searching for new methodologies and technologies. For example, working with 3D digital modelling programs which open up a range of new perspectives on the reconstruction of colour schemes in historic interiors. The main research questions addressed are: How to comprehensively evaluate colour taking into consideration the gradients of light and reflection in a space? What are the options and methodologies for reconstruction strategies on colour applications in Modern Movement interiors? How to reduce the cost of physical reconstruction? Which archival material to search for and how? How to assess and work with archival material or its absence? What constitutes a historical colour and paint study in a modern interior? And which tools and methods may lead to more precise insights on original situations?

The three-day program of Living in Colour consists of two workshops followed by the conference presenting in-depth studies which will elaborate on the aforementioned topics. The closing event will be the opening ceremony of the exhibition Living in Colour. Common Ground between Visual Arts and Interior Architecture (December 5 – 21, 2019) – organized by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp and the Faculty of Design Sciences, University of Antwerp – presenting twelve ‘encounters’ between visual arts and interior architecture, supplemented with a visiting tour in Antwerp. The encounters illustrate the interactions between both disciplines through colour, based on the relationships between space, objects, furniture, artworks, etc. A number of original iconographic material from archives, museums and private collections, as well as furniture objects, will be displayed here for the first time.

Find the full program and the registration at:

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