Architecture colours defining yesterday, today and tomorrow

‘Colour Memories’, a new exhibition by London’s Museum of Architecture, takes a look at the colours inspiring architects through time and personal experience

artwork Diamonds and Circles for the Art on the Underground project
Daniel Buren’s artwork Diamonds and Circles for the Art on the Underground project, at Tottenham Court Road station, redeveloped by Hawkins\Brown, © Hawkins\Brown and Daniel Buren
(Image credit:

Architecture and colour have a long and established relationship. Bright geometric pops of colour at Tottenham Court Road Underground station, courtesy of artist Daniel Buren and part of Hawkins/Brown’s redevelopment; the muted colours of Morris + Company’s models for its Sylvan Heritage project in Kent; and the vivid stripes of Charles Holland Architects' Polly pavilion in North Yorkshire – colours lend each of these distinctive designs its own idiosyncratic character. The emotive role of colour and its power to be both joyful and inclusive has long held architects and designers engaged, and is now the subject of a new digital exhibition organised by the Museum of Architecture, London.

‘Colour Memories’ looks into the sentimental role colour holds for architects, who juggle the personal connotations it can conjure for them with a knowledge of how it will impact design. The exhibition examines the impact of memory and how it works alongside colour’s power to alter perceptions of space, set the ambience, or draw on an intrinsic web of cultural associations.

Jonathan Hagos as a child in front of his parents orange car

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The Polly Pavillion by Charles Holland is brightly coloured

Pictured above, Architect Jonathan Hagos is inspired by the salmon-orange hue of his parents’ Opal Kadett. Below, Polly pavilion at Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal in North Yorkshire, by Charles Holland Architects

(Image credit: Charles Holland Architects)

For Jonathan Hagos of architecture practice Freehaus, salmon orange was the colour of his parents’ Opal Kadett, parked outside the first home he remembers living in. For Catherine Pease of vPPR Architects, soft green recalls the calming hues of plants, and she and her colleagues are drawn to projects that link landscape and architecture. For Harbinder Singh Birdi of Hawkins\Brown Architects, traffic red holds a significance. Paul Monaghan of AHMM finds the distinctive green of a Victorian tile sentimental.

‘Colour is something that helps us recall memories and feelings,' says founder and director of The Museum of Architecture Melissa Woolfrod. ‘The steel blue of the ocean on a windy Autumn's day that gives us chills just thinking of it; bright neon-coloured lights in cities that evoke excitement and energy; and primary-coloured crayons strewn across a table harking back to the nostalgia and innocence of being a child. Narratives like these are driving the Museum of Architecture's Colour Memories exhibition, bringing the personal stories of architects, and the designs they inspire, to life.'

The exhibition, sponsored by Axalta, looks further than nostalgia’s role in colour memory, contemplating how colour informs both the design process and our mood and wellbeing. It nods to recent movements in architecture and design, considering the role of the Multiform movement – characterised by its use of bold colours and themes – and the vibrant New London Fabulous movement, which celebrates colourful design cues from diverse cultures. Twenty architectural practices come together for the digital exhibition, providing a personal exploration of colour’s role in their designs.

Morris + Company Sylvan Heritage models are in muted hues

(Image credit: press)

The colourful maths department at Queens University

Pictured above, Morris + Company Sylvan Heritage models for its project in Kent. Below, Mathematics department building at Queen Mary University of London by WilkinsonEyre architects.

(Image credit: WilkinsonEyre)

‘Colour Memories’, until October 2021, is a digital exhibition sponsored by Axalta

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.