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A Wunderkammer of Color, May edition

By Jude Stewart

This month, we’ve got a packed cabinet of color finds, thanks to Josh Rutner, saxophonist for The Respect Sextet and one of the most avid color fans alive. Much of this post’s research originated with him. (Tweet me @joodstew if you have an idea for next month’s roundup.)

Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite color finds:

Forget Le Corbusier’s brutally misnamed Radiant City. Architect and color specialist Joseph Urban’s Rainbow City concept (in the left column) for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair presents a breathtaking alternative vision that depicts a gorgeous, color-drenched cityscape made fleetingly real by the American Asphalt Paint Company. The project covered 10.5 million square feet of Chicago with 28 custom colors and employed 350 workers for the task over six months. A tremendous design idea, writ very large. [via Recto Verso Blog]

Joseph Urban’s Rainbow City concept, via Recto

Praça Cantão Favela Painting project, via Wooster Collective

Large-scale architectural rainbows are out of control! The City of New York has commissioned artist Molly Dilworth to paint brightly colored murals on Times Square rooftops and pedestrian walkways of Times Square – both as urban art and as a clever means of reducing heat pollution from sticky-black asphalt. Earlier this month, Berlin’s Rosenthaler Platz was zigzagged with a living rainbow of paint that mimicked traffic patterns. Most recently, the Favela Painting project has subsumed another slum in a vividly fresh paintjob. Since 2006, Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas en Dre Urhahn have spearheaded this community-driven art project, which is similar in spirit to Dulux Paints’ Let’s Colour project. [via Wooster Collective]

Color preferences table used in Palmer and Schloss’ color preferences study, via Neurotopia

This one zipped around the Internet in a hurry, so perhaps you've already seen the XKCD color survey? But while we're on the topic, two cognitive scientists actually did take a crack at developing what they call an “ecological valence theory” of color preference, which claims that humans prefer certain colors because they’re ecologically healthy (crystal-blue water, healthy green plants) and avoid ecologically unhealthy colors (brown for feces or things rotting). It’s a plausible-sounding theory until you’ve spent a full 30 seconds listing many lovely, life-affirming, chocolatey-brown things and – while you’re at it – shot through the theory almost effortlessly with many other counterexamples. If you wonder how Actual Scientists might react to XKCD’s color-findings – an informal, if heftily large sampling of color-fans and their preferences – here’s your answer. Plenty of neuroscientists and related compadres have explored why girls like pink and boys blue, including this study reported in Time involving Chinese and British subjects. It’s a worthy subject, but highly vulnerable to pseudoscientific claims. Beware.

What Color are Most iPhone and iPad Apps?

If you’re plumping for hard color-preference facts, here are some inarguable ones: I Love Charts’ analysis of which colors dominate iPhone and iPad apps. Blue, we heart you! (And black, although mixing the two makes for an overly-bruisy effect.)

Color-preferences can and will be manipulated – ask any designer or marketer worth her salt. Even the TED geniuses agree – witness this recent talk by bioinformatics expert Sebastian Wernicke about building the perfect TED talk. Fast-forward the video to 3:55 to find the key to a perfectly optimized color scheme. (Hint: to maximally fascinate your TED audience, go for cornflower blue; to lean more towards ingenious, try forest-green.)

But color isn’t hardboiled science – or isn’t confined to that realm exclusively. It spills out of every ornate frame or plate-glass slide we can devise to contain it. Here we invoke the refreshingly irate sputterings of Stephen Drucker in The Huffington Post. Reacting to yet another poker-faced New York Times article purporting to cage the science of color preferences, Drucker had this to say: “Color is like sex. It’s mysterious. It’s unknowable. It never looks the same twice. No two people see the same thing. No two people feel the same thing. I once went to China on a cruise ship. Eight hundred of us got off the ship wearing white, because it feels festive and shippy and says ‘I’m on a cruise.’ In China white is the color of mourning. We looked insane.”

Rainbow in Your Hand flipbook by Utrecht

Color doesn’t always holler or intrude. It can lull and quiet, too. More than half the world’s believers channel their God through considering blue. Jews contemplate the infinite, embodied in blue-fringed shawls; Muslims in Blue Mosques; Buddhists fingering turquoise beads as they pray, all thinking blue, blue, more blue. In that spirit, knock back with this small, calming flipbook by the Japanese design store Utrecht — that’s right: Dutch wooden shoes and Roppongi kawaii-punk together again. [via The Dutchables]


Paintings by Yago Hortal, title by Robert Anton Wilson [via butdoesitfloat]

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About the Author

Jude Stewart is a Print contributing editor. She has written on design and culture for Slate, The Believer, I.D., Metropolis, and GOOD, as well as a column on color for STEP Inside Design. She also tweets about color at twitter.com/joodstew.