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Colour & texture: Fifty shades of anything but grey

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Perseverance and a willingness to take risks underpins the best colour and texture design, but new products can be a catalyst, writes Felix Mara

Why is it some architects combine colours and textures with flare, whereas others serve up mindnumbingly bland designs or dogs’ breakfasts? The vital ingredients for success are perseverance and a willingness to take risks: successful surprises require meticulous planning.

Design approaches


For some of Britain’s most creative designers in this field - such as AHMM, Hawkins\Brown and TILT - the catalyst is not necessarily the freedom of an empty site but the challenges of working with existing structures. One of the best is MoreySmith, whose approach to colour and texture design is exemplified by four recent London office projects: Argent’s and ASOS’ headquarters, 33 Gracechurch Street and 100 New Oxford Street.

Founding director Linda Morey Smith has established a design practice committed to addressing workers’ psychological needs in tandem with their operational and physical ones. The firm’s reputation is built on imaginatively reworking difficult buildings, often collaborating with artists to achieve individuality. Bespoke artwork injects strong colour and texture, while it aims to humanise spaces using texture, scale and colour for maximum occupant benefit. Striking and rational design concepts are underpinned by experimentation with new materials - for example, in the first installation of Sensitile Lumina, from the US, at 100 New Oxford Street.

MoreySmith’s headquarters for Argent, with Ecosense resin, containing recycled-metal honeycomb structure, to meeting room

Source: Edmund Sumner

MoreySmith’s headquarters for Argent, with Ecosense resin, containing recycled-metal honeycomb structure, to meeting room

MoreySmith expressed texture upon arrival and throughout spaces at each level of the design process at 110 Cannon Street and Argent’s headquarters in King’s Cross, the latter of which has polished copper finishes, feature screens and doorways, and fret cut panels - transparent and bonded - which create depth. Encapsulated structured textures within glass and resin balance existing brickwork and energetic colours are distributed through light fittings and furniture. At 110 Cannon Street a tactile mesh wrapping the external facade at street level continues to form layers of texture throughout the interior, with a specially commissioned artwork, white glass and acrylic chandeliers by Eva Menz and finely crafted, luxurious, leather ripple panels in the lift lobby.

Texture is not always three dimensional, however, and MoreySmith often introduces movement through surfaces’ sheen, reflectivity and solid colour. At 33 Gracechurch Street, a feature wall with bespoke gold-leaf panelling and lacquer enwraps the reception space. The large fabric canopy introduces pattern, transparency and texture at high level within the double-height space.

Argent’s headquarters (AJ 02.05.13) links a tramshed with the historic Western Granary Office - a trademark MoreySmith repositioning of old stock and historic architecture overlayed with contemporary design. Integrated recycled parquet flooring provides spatial unity and registers scale. Accentuated exposed brickwork contrasts with modern, streamlined elements. Timber rafts are exposed and highly polished copper framing humanises an otherwise voluminous space, combining an earthy material with a modern highlight. Grestec tiles lining the staircase wall, which links ground to first floor, are chosen from the mosaic range; a bespoke pattern takes its cue from new external paving, which in turn refers to historic cobbles. The graphic manifestation on the meeting-room glazing further reflects the entrance tile pattern. Ecosense resin, containing a recycled-metal honeycomb
structure that refracts light, gives warmth and interest to meeting-room doors and a fabric-interlayered glass screen brings transparency and softness to the transition between reception and open-plan workspace. Accent pieces acknowledge the site’s history, while reclaimed whisky barrels adapted as contemporary office doors bring warmth and tonal texture to the mezzanine space. The Milliken carpet tile is a new product comprising 100 per cent recycled sustainably manufactured yarn.

At 33 Gracechurch Street, light and dark coloured surfaces and reflective finishes are juxtaposed, and the white gold-leaf panelled reception wall fades to a lacquer finish. This reflective finish injects light into the space, further emphasised by an imposing 6m-high etched bronze mirror wall.

Reconfigured spaces using pattern, texture and colour to communicate a vibrant company image

Finally, at the expanded headquarters for online fashion retailer ASOS at Greater London House, MoreySmith has reconfigured spaces using pattern, texture and colour to communicate a vibrant company image.


A little colour can go a long way. MRJ Rundell + Associates and executive architect Designscape have imaginatively wrapped artist Damien Hirst’s new Science Production Studio’s insulated cladding with a special snap-lock rolling profile. ‘This overcladding’s standing seams are blue on one side and green on the other - the client’s brand colours’, says Designscape director Chris Mackenzie.

The world’s largest art production studio, incorporating a high-security art store and private gallery for showing work to clients, it has stringent requirements for privacy, security and diffused daylight, which enters almost exclusively through the roof. Its elevations are 70m long, 9m high and virtually unfenestrated. Trimo Trimoterm FTV GS 200 mineral wool-filled cladding panels provide an airtight, fireproof, highly insulated and secure envelope, and the overcladding appears to be two different colours, depending on your viewpoint. ‘If you stand halfway down the elevation, you’re not quite sure whether the building is blue or green’, says Mackenzie.

Overcladding to MRJ Rundell + Associates and Designscape, Science Production Studios for Damien Hirst

Overcladding to MRJ Rundell + Associates and Designscape, Science Production Studios for Damien Hirst

The 1mm thick Novelis pre-painted Lock Welt quality Special H44 temper overcladding, which protects and extends the life of the insulated panels, is prepainted, hard-tempered aluminium, brought to site as a coil. The studios were used as a production factory to decoil and form the cladding into trays; colour was then applied to the preformed standing seams with a specialist graphic tape - 3M Scotchcal 100 Series Opaque Film. The seams were preformed, then snapped together so no tools were needed to close them up, a technique rarely used in Britain but more common in the US. This enabled the coloured tape to be applied to both sides of the seams without damaging it during installation. Once formed and coloured, the lightweight panels were carried outside manually, hoisted up, then snapped into place. Setting out and detailing was meticulously planned to avoid misalignment at the openings - all details were tested on a sample panel, which was essential to iron out problems that could have ruined the facade’s simplicity.

The adjacent 18m-high, 70m-long gallery is expressed as a separate volume, clad with dark metallic grey Kingspan micro-ribbed panels that exceed their normal maximum length by several metres. As they are made in a linear production line, they simply had to be cut longer than usual, with special transport arranged to get them to site.

External finishes


Corten weathering steel, introduced to many of us by John Winter’s 1969 Highgate residence, is currently a popular choice for external cladding and other applications and is available in Britain from various suppliers, under US licence.

‘Corten was originally developed as an alternative to paint finishes,’ says Bob Hollywood, director of design consultancy and workshop Hollywood Design, which specialises in architectural metalwork. ‘As it ages, it turns orange-brown, its appearance depending on amospheric salt levels.’

Corten gradually forms a skin providing protection against the elements. This corrosion-retarding layer is produced by the distribution and concentration of elements in the steel, including small amounts of chromium, nickel and copper. The outer surface reacts to changes in the weather and, as it develops and regenerates continuously, it produces its protective rust barrier. Corten can be welded, bolted or riveted.

‘The nearer Corten is to the sea, the more intense the orange effect on its surface, due to the salt content in the atmosphere,’ says Hollywood. This surface protective layer develops and regenerates continuously when ubjected to weather and atmospheric corrosion.

Developed by the United States Steel Corporation in the early 1960s, Corten comes in three standard grades: A applies to plates up to 12.5mm thick; grade B to those up to 50mm; and a third standard covers thin steel sheets. Basic guidelines for the use of this type of steel in its unprotected condition are described in EN 10025-5.

However, ‘natural weathering of Corten can cause rust stains on surrounding materials,’ warns Hollywood. ‘Nor is it fully rustproof: water should not be allowed to gather on its surface for long periods, as it will eventually corrode.’

Corten facade of Featherstone Young’s Waddington Studios, Hackney (AJ 20.06.13)

Corten facade of Featherstone Young’s Waddington Studios, Hackney (AJ 20.06.13)


Another currently popular material, faience, has a longer history. ‘It was widely used during the 19th century, often alongside its unglazed counterpart, terracotta,’ says art historian Tamsin Pickeral. Victorian and early 20th-century architects were attracted to faience as a cladding material because it is durable and versatile. Its glazed finish is highly pollution repellent - ideal when London was smog ridden.

‘It can be modeled faster than stone can be carved, is less expensive and easier to transport, and offers an endless range of finishes, colours and effects with a luxuriant, tactile quality,’ says Pickeral. ‘It is also far less consistent than stone and, once it has been fired, there can be quite a range of shrinkage, which can make it difficult to work with - but, for some, this increases its artisan appeal.’

Eagle Place Eric Parry

Source: Dirk Lindner

Eric Parry Architects’ One Eagle Place, with cornice designed by Richard Deacon. Faience producer: Shaws of Darwen. Faience and stone installer Szerelmey

Eric Parry Architects’ One Eagle Place (AJ 04.07.13) has a 25m-long cornice designed by the artist Richard Deacon, comprising 39 sculptural faience sections, which are variants on 14 different prismatic forms, all with a 1.2m height limit. Each has a randomly patterned design of 30 different vibrant colours. Like One Eagle Place’s window reveals, these have a sartorial quality - the flamboyant necktie or the lining that animates a restrained gentleman’s suit. Deacon’s designs were transferred onto the faience pieces using screen-printed decals, a process originally used in pottery manufacture. The faience producer was Shaws of Darwen and the faience and stone installer Szerelmey, with whom Parry has worked for several years.

Szerelmey’s installation team used Autodesk Inventor software to develop the structural supports for the faience, and individual pieces were created using a clay slipcasting process. This involves clay pellets mixed with water to create a liquid clay that is poured into plaster moulds. The quality of the clay is paramount and Shaws use only Devon Ball clay from specific quarries.

Once the moulds are filled, weights are placed on top, creating enough pressure to fill every nook and cranny; the moulds are then left for several days to dry. As the clay dries it shrinks slightly, so removal from moulds is relatively easy. Moulds removed, the pieces are hand finished with leathers and knives, then placed in a humidity dryer before applying the glaze prior to firing for approximately 30 hours.

The faience panels have a white glaze, overlaid with Deacon’s dynamic screenprinted transfers.

Internal finishes

Forbo Flooring Systems’ new Next Generation Marmoleum floor covering comprises four new collections, available in a wide choice of colour combinations, with a life expectancy of at least 30 years. Its new Allura Form LVT (luxury vinyl tile) range extends its core range to include new shapes, bigger sizes, and mix-and-match modularity, as well as an earthy neutral palette and novel patterns. These distinctive themes and shapes have potential for new floor design ideas in traditional LVT markets such as hospitality, leisure and retail. The idea of this extension is to allow specifiers and end users to combine design aspirations with Allura’s practicality and modularity. Highlights of the collection include the Allura Form Square tile, an oak design cut diagonally so the grain runs at 90° for parquet and inlaid flooring effects. The design is inspired by the interiors of the great European stately homes of the 18th and 19th centuries and the Art Deco era.

Producing triangular vinyl tiles is technically challenging; it demands absolute precision and sophisticated cutting processes. Triangle comprises two contrasting smooth, fine-grain wood patterns that produce bold statements involving differing designs and monochromatic floor coverings. Expressive harlequin styles and three-dimensional effects are some of the possibilities with the new Allura Form Diamond tile; this provides captivating optical illusions in a choice of four colours.

Allura Form Stone, also modular, comes in three sizes, up to 1m x 1m. By mixing and matching tile sizes, specifiers can create a sense of movement or use the biggest size for a visceral experience.

These new Allura products follow in the footsteps of the standard LVT range and are built around a glass fleece for enhanced dimension stability, while the calandered production method gives Allura tiles extra strength. High-quality PU lacquering provides longer-lasting performance without initial or intermediate treatment. Allura Form complies with AgBB and REACH evaluation procedures.

Oak XL, a versatile multi-width product available in five colours, is more than a larger version of the popular plank-shaped luxury vynyl tiles - in Forbo’s words: ‘It is a supersized beauty with a new level of realism that is ideal for mixing and matching.’

Along with perseverance and a willingness to take risks, inspiration - which can come from new products - is vital to the best in colour and texture design.

Forbo Allura Form LVT

Forbo Allura Form LVT

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