What color is it, really?

Image illustrating the 2015 viral debate over a photograph of a dress.
Image Credit: Knowable Magazine

In 2015, there was a viral debate about the color of a dress circulating around the internet, questioning whether it was gold and blue or blue and black. It was almost as if the collective population thought color was objective when it is, in fact, actually quite subjective. 

Viewers perceived the famous 2015 dress according to the light they imagined surrounding it, as well as influencing factors like changes that happen within your eyes as you age. Lenses actually yellow with age, causing humans to see less blue light after the age of 40. Of course, there are also deeply scientific reasons for seeing color differently based on the physical structure of light detectors in your eyes. 

So, what kind of impact can the subjective nature of color perception have on architecture? The answer is, quite a bit. Because color is a sensory perception, it is subjective based on the human viewing it. Architects and designers therefore have to take into account the many different ways various people will experience their designs. 

Color can draw attention, it can cause an emotion or reaction, and it can impart meaning or symbolic value. Warm colors may be considered stimulating and exciting while cool colors may be calming or even depressing. 

As architects, we must take all of this into consideration, as well as the natural surroundings of the space we are creating. Ultimately, “The architect must consider the color effect of every element of a building’s construction, from the earthy colors of primary construction materials like wood, stone, brick, and marble, to the expansive variety of colors available for paint, doors, windows, siding, and trim.” (Source). 

Because we are responsible for the unconscious and conscious impressions of color in a design, it is a crucial element of the process. “The impression of color and the message it conveys is of utmost importance in creating the psychological mood and ambiance that supports the function of the space.” 

So, what color was the dress to you? 

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