Tuesday, May 29, 2018


Integrally-colored (not painted) concrete is an old-timey
material whose color mellows with age. Don't try to
"freshen up" the color by ruining it with paint.
Color is enormously important to architecture.  Unfortunately, many architects and designers achieve it in the most literally superficial way:  by applying a coat of paint. 

Relying on paint for design impact is asking for failure. For one thing, paint is among the most transient of all building finishes. Unlike materials that patinate—such as wood, stone, and copper—paint’s durability is measured in years, not decades. 

Despite this, many architects cavalierly specify complicated paint schemes that look great for a year or two, and then become a nightmare to maintain forever after. It’s a shortsighted design approach, with the built-in likelihood of owner neglect.

The beautiful shade of verdigris on this copper roof will last
literally centuries. It's about as close to permanent color
as you can get.
What’s more, colors that are fashionable when applied (like today's mania for gloomy gray tones, for example) inevitably fall out of favor in a few short years when the next color fad rolls around. The result is usually a hasty coat of some other color that’s more popular at the moment—and more often than not, a complete negation of the architect’s original design intent as well. 

If color is important to your sense of design—as it ought to be—consider including it in ways that are either permanent, or at least are more easily maintained than coatings such as paint or stain. Some materials that hold their natural colors well, starting with the most low-key: 

•  Woods such as pine, cedar and redwood exhibit nice bright colors when freshly cut. Unfortunately, these colors won't last—all woods eventually weather to some shade between silver-gray and black, depending on species and climate. Embalming wood with preservatives or varnishes to maintain its fresh-sawn color isn’t the answer; it’ll only result in an ugly, mottled weathering pattern after the coating begins to wear off.

Still think brick is a dull material? This architect—
William Butterfield—didn't. The building is London's
All Saints Church, Margaret Street, c. 1852).
•  Concrete can be integrally colored in a range of subdued tones, from beiges to deep greens, reds and browns. Since the pigment is mixed in when the concrete is wet, the color is permanently fused to the surface. The modest additional cost of coloring is well worth it for highly visible design features such as paths or walls. However, applying paint superficially onto concrete (like the typical red "porch paint") is a losing proposition; it will quickly chip off at the wear points, and will look worse than no color at all.

•  Copper slowly weathers from an orange-brown to the blue-green shade known as verdegris, and will hold its color for centuries thereafter. Talk about a permanent coating.

Stucco can be integrally colored
in a whole rainbow of shades.
And you'll never paint your house
•  Brick comes in a vast palette of natural colors ranging from creams through peaches, buffs, and ochres, all the way to flashed brick that’s nearly black. If you’ve always thought of brick as a monotone building material, take a look at some of the dazzling pattern and color in Victorian brickwork of the late 19th century. You'll never think of brick as drab again.

The color in fired ceramic tile will last for centuries.
And, there's an incredible range of tile to choose from.
•  Stucco can be integrally tinted in a surprisingly broad range of shades. Over time, the color will soften and mellow, rather than just peeling off like paint.  Perhaps the biggest advantage, though, is that you’ll never again need to repaint the body of your house.  (Incidentally, if you’re lucky enough to have a house with this kind of finish, don’t even consider repainting it to get a more “contemporary” look. You’ll be trading a maintenance-free finish for a few years of trendiness; after that, you'll be needlessly stuck with repainting for the life of the house.)

•  Ceramic tile, glazed brick, and glazed terra-cotta were very popular exterior finishes during the color-mad Art Deco era and are still available today, though to a lesser extent. The vivid colors of these materials are fired on much like the glaze on pottery, and are equally permanent. Tiles, in particular, make an inexpensive yet permanently colorfast decoration when set in stucco or concrete.

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