Color construction

Trips to India in the late 1980s convinced architectural partners Louisa Hutton and Matthias Sauerbruch of the power of color. “We saw strong pinks, red, oranges and saffrons in the natural spices and the red of the earth, some artificial and some natural dyes,” Hutton recalls. “What impressed us was that the colors were used in a completely everyday way. Someone will wear a beautiful sari to milk the cows-welt, not to milk the cows,” she laughs, “but every day.”

Since that Technicolor epiphany, the couple, both Architectural Association-educated, have tried to inject whole families of hues into their work-most often aqueous groupings of pistachio, turquoise and cobalt or Schiaparelli-esque sets of peach, crimson and cerise. They’ve painted concrete, powder-coated steel, lacquered wood and tinted glass, exploiting new technologies to embrace a heartily artificial palette.

Fear of color, Hutton says, “is the legacy of modernism. It’s still seen as something quite frivolous to do. We don’t see it that way. Architecture should be enjoyed by the senses.”

At the beginning of their practice, Sauerbruch and Hutton applied a lively palette to London’s 15ft. row houses. “We’re always trying to overcome the fact that the house is like a little tower, two rooms and a staircase,” Hutton says. “Through color, one can liberate the space.”

As they transformed houses in London, they entered, and won, multiple competitions to build in Sauerbruch’s native Berlin. Their Photonic Center, with its color-tinted glass optical labs, opened in 1999; and their 30,000sq.meter GSW Building-located just blocks from Checkpoint Charlie-has managed to steal some of the architectural press from Daniel Liebeskind’s Jewish Museum.

The GSW, a four-part composition of the couple’s favorite amoebic shapes, features an ovoid aluminum “pillbox” glittering with various greens, a reception desk lacquered indigo, and a tall, slim glass office tower with powder-coated shades. “The red and pink shutters are all made of steel sheets with very tiny perforations, so they have a scale,” Hutton says. “They’re not a uniform abstract color.” From afar, however, the double-layered glass facade resembles a constantly changing abstract composition, a painting in progress by hundreds of hands. An everyday task, like opening your office shutters, becomes part of a larger aesthetic project.

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