A wayfinding scheme at Resorts World Birmingham exploits the placemaking potential of colour, says architect James Webster
A new appetite has emerged among clients and the public for the bold and bright use of colour and graphics in architecture, and as a result colour has become a powerful placemaking tool. For architects colour can often be scary, but its use should be seen as an opportunity to create visceral connections between space and people – what the poet WH Auden defined as topophilia: “the love of, or emotional connections with, a place or physical environment”.
My practice Alexander Owen has delivered projects for a number of clients reimagining and reinventing undervalued or underused spaces using colour to enhance experience at a pedestrian scale. For the south-London mixed-use building Peckham Levels, home to our own studio, we developed a colour-coded wayfinding system that reflects the vibrant creative community. As visitors move up and down the building, their awareness of the transition between levels is heightened by colour changes coupled with matching light filters.
Top: Wayfinding scheme at Resorts World Birmingham entertainment complex.Above left ‘Emote’, an installation within four lifts at co-living space The Collective in Canary Wharf, east London, comprises coloured light filters and graphics applied to the mirrored walls.
Above right: Stairwell at Peckham Levels, south London. Alexander Owen was commissioned to develop a wayfinding system within the former multistorey car park, which now accommodates a wide variety of bars, restaurants and work spaces.
At co-living developer The Collective’s Canary Wharf location, we reimagined a series of lifts, assigning each a single identity, then translating the identity into a specific graphic form, colour and light filter which we then applied to the lift car interiors as a vinyl wrap.
Wayfinding scheme at Resorts World Birmingham entertainment complex. The scheme uses over 20 colours from the PPG Voice of Colour range, and fluorescent highlights from Bristol Paint. “We wanted to incorporate a subtle sheen to the surface to give the colour transitions a sinuous movement and fluidity”, says the architect. “This visual requirement coupled with high footfall and a need for durability pointed us towards an eggshell finish”.
Most recently, for the Resorts World Birmingham entertainment complex we designed a new wayfinding system in the form of a visual art piece that celebrates the structure, form and organisation of the building as well as visitors’ movement through it. We used a colour palette that relates to the function of the central triple-height atrium as both a decompression space and a transition zone. The choice of colours is intended to engender different moods and feelings: purples and pinks exude vibrant energy, while the blues and greens provide more ‘healing’, tranquil energies, increasing dwell time. Black fills the neutral voids between the floor plates and acts as a back- and foreground to the colour. Fluorescent highlights set at the average eye-heights of men and women draw visitors through the spaces.
The choice of colours is intended to engender different moods and feelings: purples and pinks exude vibrant energy, while the blues and greens provide more ‘healing’, tranquil energies, increasing dwell time. Black fills the neutral voids between the floor plates and acts as a back- and foreground to the colour. Fluorescent highlights set at the average eye-heights of men and women draw visitors through the spaces.
The design was driven by an architectural analysis of the space, including circulation patterns, entry and exit points and key sight-lines. Modelling the existing atrium in three dimensions, and developing the scheme within the model, allowed foresight on how it performed against the brief, as well as how they would be experienced.
Details of the central atrium at Resorts World Birmingham. “We wanted a continuation of colour across the balustrades and so opted for vinyl in complimentary colours to add depth and dynamic visual interest”, says the architect. “Transparency was critical so that visitors could still see through the vinyl for wayfinding and exploratory purposes, but vibrancy was also important. We used a mix of Hexis and William Smith products which were digitally cut to provide a continuation of the paint colour transitions”.
As the atrium is flooded with natural light by day and has varying temperatures of artificial light by night, we worked with one of the paint manufacturer’s senior technical consultants on site to tweak specific shades to site conditions, and maximise the visual impact of the palette as a whole.
For the installation – by signage firm Bowden & Dolphin with painting by Bagnalls – we produced setting-out drawings, including colour-coded diagrams, directly from the 3D model. While these were relatively simple to follow, the first three nights of the install required us on site, striking laser lines from tripods on each escalator across the atrium at specific heights and angles, which the painters then traced with tape by hand, working from access cradles.
With a single tape line taking around 30 minutes this wasn’t a quick process, but once everything had been accurately taped the painters made their way around the space over the next three weeks, following our coded diagrams to apply each of the more than 20 colours.
Resorts World carried out customer surveys pre- and post-installation, and figures show that there has been a 235 per cent increase in customers rating the ‘visual appeal’ four or five out of five, and a 207 per cent increase in those rating the ‘atmosphere and vibe’ four or five out of five. Statistics like these show the power of colour, but while bold use of colour can deliver visual impact, it will only speak to those who encounter it if it is informed by reasoned, narrative-based understanding of the place. Perhaps that’s what topophilia really is: an inaudible conversation between ourselves and the spaces we inhabit.