People talk a lot about colour. Artists and designers discuss how it creates mood, defines objects, shape and distance and taps into human feelings. At the Ramus studio, colour choice and application is fundamental to all our projects. Most recently on our project 888 Collins Street, colour became the primary visualizer, connecting what we see with what we feel.
Now we are hearing more and more that particular colours of lights can seriously affect human physiology through interruptions of the circadian rhythm, or the body clock. The American Medical Association (AMA) have vindicated these findings, releasing an official policy statement recommending the elimination of a particular blue enriched LED light in public places.
This is all very interesting but what actually is colour? And why might it have such a varied affect on us?
Firstly, colour does not actually exist in the physical world.
Well it does, sort of, but objects are not inherently colourful. It’s all in your head.
Inside our eyeballs are rods and cones. Rods perceive light and dark, and cones perceive colour. Particular wavelengths of light are ‘read’ by the cones, and tell the brain to ‘see’ a certain colour. The frequency of the wavelength determines the colour the brain interprets.
Red is the lowest frequency the human eye can register and purple is the highest. All other frequencies that lie between the two are called the visible spectrum. Those that lie outside are the invisible spectrum such as infrared.
At the point where the wavelengths transmit information to the brain, the biological triggers the feeling, and this is the domain we are most interested in.
Objects that reflect all frequencies in the visible spectrum appear white, while those that absorb all frequencies appear as black.
When we perceive an object as being of a certain colour its surface has absorbed all other colours in the spectrum and only reflects the wavelengths the eye sees. When we see lights displaying particular colours they are actually emitting particular wavelengths.
The way we see and experience colour is biological, neurological and sensorial. Responses to light are common to all living things, and at the same time, are unique to each of us. It is reasonable to assume, based on these understandings that our individual responses will also be generalised at a macro level, but may be highly individualized at a personal level. While the process of perceiving light through the eyeball is the same for most sighted individuals, the way we feel about what we perceive varies greatly depending on personal experiences and cultural associations. For example in Western countries red is typically interpreted as meaning fast, anger or passion, while in China red is a celebration colour; A symbol of good luck, used for weddings and funerals. For some, particular colours that are typically regarded as calming may trigger negative associations and have an antagonistic effect.
At the point where the wavelengths transmit information to the brain, the biological triggers the feeling, and this is the domain we are most interested in. We see colour as the primary vehicle through which light connects visual information with feeling. That makes it vital to the final outcomes of all our projects and worthy of study and consideration.
Over the next few months we are going to dive deep into what we know and feel about colour, how it moves people and affects space. We’ll reflect on past projects and what it takes to create immersive worlds of light for buildings, public places or live events.
Words: Myf Doughty