Rooms 17 and 21
design of space and architectural decor. In addition to providing scope for new ornamental fantasy, colour also allowed architects to break away from the classical theory of imitation and to rethink the relationship between architecture and nature. The red, which is unquestionably the most frequently primary colour in architecture, provides the unifying thread here.
The colour red is historically associated with wealth and power due to the cost of the pigments used to produce it, particularly Tyrian purple. This symbolic significance is reflected in its ubiquity in architecture from past eras rediscovered by 19th century architects. Plans and restoration work reveal the role of polychromy in classical antiquity, ancient Egypt and Assyria, as well as during the Middle Ages and in non-Western societies. This research, which was widely disseminated with the expansion of printing, reaped the benefits of the introduction in the early 19th century of a new colour reproduction process – chromolithography. This context informed significant architectural output in which historicism was given a fresh impetus with imaginative and colourful ornamentation. Polychromy found its way into interiors, but was difficult to execute on exteriors as paint was not sufficiently durable. The combination of colour and ornamentation also gave rise to criticism on a theoretical level when excessive ornamentation overshadowed architecture.
From the 1840s, the industrialisation of manufacturing processes for bricks and terracotta ornamentations encouraged the use of these materials which offered architects a simple and cost-effective way to address the issue of the durability of colour in architecture subject to wet weather conditions. Their adoption owed a great deal to prestigious Roman models and to 17th century French and Dutch architecture. Increased use was also based on the popularity of universal exhibitions which promoted industry and whose buildings provided the ultimate showcase for the aesthetic merits of these materials. They facilitated the introduction of colourful architecture based on diverse materials and a respect for architectural structure, which represented a departure from the theory of imitation and ushered in a new simplified ornamental idiom free from copying.
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