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Color in Schools – the Eye of the Beholder

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I have worked on school projects for over twenty years and I still find it fascinating that many architects are timid with their use of color.

This may be a result of the strong emotion that color can produce. I have yet to design a project where the owner didn’t ban a specific color from the project, often for personal and emotional reasons. It is not possible to please everyone, and trying to avoid this color conflict and by painting everything white can do more harm than good. Why? Under less than optimal lighting conditions, the glare from white walls can cause measurable eye strain.

There is extensive research on the use of color showing that light blues and purples have a calming effect, while bold red colors can provide a huge distraction and increase heart rates, especially with younger students. So what is the right answer? Should every classroom be blue? That seems restrictive and very boring. The answer is, there isn’t a right or wrong color.

A few years ago my wife and I decided it was time to paint the exterior of our house. We reviewed many color options and finally agreed on one. We both love the color to this day, however, if you ask us what we selected, she will say green and I would say brown.

I came to the understanding after that experience that it is the individual perception of color that will always be different and thus you will never find the perfect color for everyone. The good news is that there are new studies that suggest the effect of colors are only temporary and after time within a particular space, their effect, whether originally soothing or agitating, diminishes. So dare to use color. If you love it, someone else will too!

Tim Ayersman, Associate

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