Why are so many cities afraid of colour?

I am finally starting to get settled. I have almost unpacked, changed my mobile number and have had my connection to the Internet made. I am now living across the country from where I started this blog and I’m getting acquainted with the nuances of west coast life. Since I arrived, the weather here, unlike the weather I left in central Canada, has been very cool, rainy and grey. While I am sure I will have many more questions as life here takes on a, well, life of its own, one that I have found pressing is: why in a place that is very frequently under grey weather is there is there a lack of colour in the built form? The trees here are amasing, the density of green is breath taking but why so little colour to compete with or complement the vibrancy of the green in the summer or to enliven the grey in the winter and those other long spells of hard grey weather. But, in fact, its not just a phenomenon on the west coast of Canada, why are so many cities afraid of colour?

One city in Canada, St John’s, the largest city in Newfoundland is known for Jelly Bean row. Contrary to the description, the area isn’t a row but a multitude of houses that are painted in different vibrant and sometime clashing colours.  The tradition goes back to St. John’s fishing roots, when the ship captains returned home and would search for their homes, which were lined up on the nearby hills. In order to make their own house stand apart from everyone else’s they would paint it a different colour. Because St. John’s is on the eastern coast they have more than their fair share of grey and dreary or snowy; however, the colourful homes add to the jubilant maritime lifestyle.

Jelly Bean Row, St John’s, Newfoundland

I saw a post on Facebook about a house in Stuttgart by ABTart, which was painted solid black. Now this is obviously a radical gesture, and black is not a colour but this building stands out amongst all the red roofs and pale exteriors.


In a recent suburban experiment, “The Leona Drive Project” in Toronto in 2009, a number of artists created installations with a series of bungalows waiting to be demolished for new development. An Te Liu, cleaned up one of the houses, painted it Monopoly-house green which spoke to the point of the game to collect property and consolidate ownership to leverage further development and to create more value for a single entity, the developer.

An Te Liu, Title Deed, 2009

I have already posted about MVRDV’s Blue addition titled Didden Village. The idea was to extent the family residence by adding additional space and a terrace which created another ‘village’ above the rooftop and adding ‘roof life’ to the city.

MVRDV, Didden Village

MVRDV, Didden Village

There is another blue house located in Austria but it is painted entirely blue in both its exterior and interior. Everything is blue, walls, furnishing and even plants. Architect Peter Kasching wanted to create an experiment to see the psychological effects of living in a house with only one colour.


The Favela Painting Project was a collaboration between the local community and artists Joroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhan to transform the community into a landmark, a tourist attraction but most importantly it elevates the image of the favela as an essential part of Rio and a place where its people take pride in their surroundings.


SOMOS Arquitectos
, an architect firm, designed a green social housing project in Madrid. This is a description from the architects, the building “rises eight floors above the ground along one of the limits of the block imposed by the restrained urban planning. The great scale of the building forces it to act as a visual screen for the green area that stands aside, physically protecting it.”

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