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A local authority architect wants to paint classrooms in a bright red to stimulate pupils but the client is worried this could lead to unruly behaviour. It may sound like a theoretical problem, but it was a real issue raised by an audience member at the AJ's recent conference on Colour in Design. As an indicator of how seriously these issues are now considered, the question could not have been asked in a better place. Angela Wright, director of Colour Effects, responded that red would be more suitable for a gymnasium, since it stimulates physical energy. Blue is an intellectual stimulant and yellow an emotional stimulant. Using strong colours will inject energy, whereas lighter tones are likely to soothe.

In her presentation, Wright, who has worked hard to establish a scientific basis for theories of colour, exploded some myths. It is not true, she said, that response to colour is determined by culture, age and gender - this applies only to our conditioned, conscious response. And there are no universally attractive colours, she said - just universally attractive combinations.

For architects trying to work imaginatively with colour, however, all the theory in the world is of no use if they can't actually get hold of the colours that they want.

Tim Makower, project director for Allies & Morrison on its Bankside 123 project, discussed the use of coloured external fins in the design. These coloured metal panels form a counterpoint to the smooth terracotta cladding. Originally, the architect was thinking of a purplish two-tone colour for the fins but then it hit reality and discovered that its only choice of colours was green or blue.

It settled on blue and is confident the effect will be interesting. But Makower is disappointed the selection is so limited. 'Construction of buildings is still a cottage industry - there is almost no choice, ' he said. 'If I can have it on a car, why can't I have it on a building?' With interiors there is no such restriction, since paint can of course come in any colour you can think of, plus some that you can't. Nevertheless, it can be used in very depressing ways. Hilary Dalke, director of CROMO and the Colour Design Research Centre at Kingston University, has been looking at the application of colour research to healthcare environments. She stressed the importance of this, since many long-term residents experience only three environments - their bedroom, a day room and the linking space. Choice of colours for these can therefore be key.

Curiously, Dalke found that when residents are asked to select their own colours their selections are decidedly anaemic.

There are distinct differences between men and women, with men preferring green and women liking red/blue - not good news for elderly men in homes, who are always outnumbered by women.

Oddly, respondents claimed to hate a home that had bright colours in the corridor, although the people there were far more alert than in other establishments - proof, perhaps, that our responses to colour really are instinctive and not willed.

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