Why do architects always choose white?

Many architects will tell you something about purity, shadows ‘form’. Corbusier liked white, but he was frankly mad. Corbusier designed his houses with a wash basin immediately inside the front door, to be used by all visitors on arrival; he also designed a urinal in an alcove close by – or am I thinking of someone else? The Victorians were quite obsessive about white, specifically in bathrooms, so you could see if they had been cleaned properly (by someone else), but then most Victorians had their ‘bathrooms’ in the garden if they even had their own.

No, I don’t think either of these reasons stands.

If you imagine a simplified design process, the architect has a set of constraints and a brief. The design evolves out of an ingenious juggle, taking all the aspects of both into account, the ingenuity of the architect steers the design, towards a logical conclusion, usually the constraints include ‘the current architectural sensibilities, what I like to call “what architects design right now- architecture”, its almost like a pattern book, you’ve seen it, glass balustrades-dark grey window frames, timber louvers etc…

All fine so far- all so ‘what architects design right now’.

Then comes a colour choice. A rendered wall -a timber façade. There is often little or no ‘logical’ colour choice and yet as the post modern era has taught us so many wrong colour choices. The cruelest part of it is that colour fashion-time is quicker than architecture fashion-time, so if you choose a colour for a building it will be out of fashion before the building is. Just look at post modernism. Stirling’s pink and blue buildings would at least have stood a chance if they weren’t pink and blue!

So architects are paralyzed with indecision when it comes to colour choice, I have seen architects spend months trying to decide on the right shade of yellow for a brick wall, differences so small that they are rendered immaterial after a couple of months weathering.

On the other hand someone said to me recently that as they knew they were going to redecorate the whole house in the future, so they decided to temporarily paint a room whatever colour they liked. Perhaps the fact that it was temporary meant that they were free to choose something that didn’t comply with a whole set of subconscious (and conscious I suppose) rules that govern choices.

So the whole reason architects favour white is a crippling indecisiveness when it comes to anything without a rational basis, however abstract. And perhaps a bit of fear of other peoples subconscious colour prejudice.

So after three months, five sample pots and a visit to the Protek factory in Somerset, I have decided on a colour for the timber facade.

-Well it couldn’t be white