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Colour is the key

Gigon /Guyer Architects: Works & Projects 1989-2000 Edited by J Christoph Burkle. Gustavo Gili, 2000. 384pp. £39. (Available from Triangle bookshop 020 7631 1381)

It is now a decade since Swiss architects Annette Gigon and Mike Guger set up practice together, and this comprehensive record shows what a remarkable period it has been.

Each project has its own quirkiness yet recognisably belongs to a highly coherent oeuvre: tough, friendly, efficient and, well. . .

Swiss. Sometimes subtly, sometimes less so: the family house in Canton Zurich looks as though it belongs to Heidi the goatgirl's suburban cousin.

But the quirkiness is saved from silliness by an underlying simplicity. The book's editor, J Christoph Burkle, accurately describes Gigon/Guyer's architectural approach as 'near frugal', but it is a frugality enriched by an assured use of colour.

In one of the short essays which punctuate the text, Martin Steinmann sheds some light on the complexity of the practice's approach to colour. The Hochstrasse house in Basel, for example, uses concrete tinted with iron oxide in anticipation of the discolouration which would otherwise have been caused by the adjacent railway.

The outside facade of the residential complex in Kilchberg (above left) is painted in a shade which reflects the rural landscape, changing from brown-black to light greybrown depending on the weather. The courtyard facades are painted orange, a colour which remains constant.

Steinmann argues that architects, lacking a precise knowledge of colour's physiological and psychological properties, often invite artists to determine colour 'just as engineers are brought in to size the load-bearing parts'.

Certainly, this is a practice which takes artists seriously. Those artists who have collaborated on buildings are given prominent mention, and the presentation of the work suggests that colour is as - if not more - important than structure. There are no close-ups of complicated structural junctions, but there are several full-bleed photographs which illustrate little more than an enjoyment of colour and light.

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