The Story Behind Le Corbusier's Color Theory


Charles-Édouard Jeanneret or popularly known as Le Corbusier, lived in a time when designers and manufacturers, like Henry Ford, think of color as a mere ornament. For Ford, black is the perfect color for any automobile because it dries very fast. Modern architects and designers also have that same thinking using the sterile white box. Le Corbusier, on the other hand, think that color has a psychology.

Le Corbusier believed that color affects and influences spatial effects. According to his 1930 essay, Architectural Polychromy, the psychology of each person is controlled by one or dominant colors. In layman's terms, we are greatly influenced by certain colors which, in turn, influence how we view things. He echoed the same belief when he created a swatch book of colors for Salubra, a Swiss wallpaper company.

In the book, Le Corbusier created a color palette and organized them like a keyboard. Then he placed a cardboard cutout along the pages to create color harmonies. The first edition of the book published in 1931 had 43 different colors; then he added 20 more in 1956.

Le Corbusier's color theory revolves around three concepts. First, you create the atmosphere or ambiance using color; second, contrast is achieved by applying synthetic pigments; and third, transparent synthetic pigments are used to alter surfaces without affecting how the eye perceives space.

These concepts are also the same reasons why he got involved in the wallpaper industry. He wanted to see his color choices be used the same way he wanted it to be used, a possibility which he did not see in paint. Therefore, he organized his color palette into 12 cards that represent a color family. Each card has three color bands which came with an instruction from Le Corbusier himself which three to five colors blend well with each other. He also suggests which color should be used for an entire wall and which one is used for contrast, usually a bolder color.

According to Christine von der Linn, senior specialist at Swann Auction Galleries, color theory enables the "designer to manipulate the design and reflect the psychological needs of the client."

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