How colour is reinventing public spaces

  02 September, 2017      Industry Insights
How colour is reinventing public spaces

Our head of client services, Peter Hordley, recently penned an article for Local Authority Building and Maintenance about how adopting a creative approach to the interior fit out of a public sector building can have a huge impact on its success. Read the full article below. 

Innovation in paint manufacturing is enabling architects and building managers to create remarkable public facilities that utilise colour, light, and space in ways that would not have been possible in years gone by. These new spaces are altering perceptions of public buildings, and encouraging new behaviours amongst people of all ages in a variety of settings.

In turn, local authorities and building managers are pushing the boundaries of what is considered the norm when it comes to designing buildings for public use, and some inspiring projects, including Staffordshire County Council’s new Library in Stafford, have emerged as a result.

Going green

When Staffordshire County Council approached Novus to fit out Stafford Library, the council was particularly keen to ensure the interior of the building was redesigned to suit the needs of modern service users. The library, like the vast majority of public libraries around the UK, used to be a series of rooms containing bookshelves and little else so Novus were called in to address the problem and overhaul the design of the library.

The approach to the design was inspired by research into the psychology of colour, which states that green can bring about a sense of calm and positivity amongst people using a space. Lighting conditions were a primary concern for Staffordshire Council, so smart lights were installed that automatically adjust the level of light in the library. These lights dim or switch off when there is enough natural light present, helping to reduce energy consumption.

The varied design and layout of the library helped to create a number of reading environments to stimulate readers in different ways. The designs included a seating area for children that looks like a pond full of lilypads, and the whole area is broken up with curved shelves that demarcate the various reading zones and an innovation suite, which houses computers and 3D printers.

The final result is an immersive, imaginative, energising library that caters for a broad range of users and maximises the building’s potential giving the people of Stafford a truly modern, user-friendly library to enjoy.

Colour and identity

As well as being used to engender certain moods and behaviours, colour can also act as an important signifier of local identity and community. In recent years, housing authorities have successfully taken the principles that guide the use of colour in student accommodation and applied them to public housing projects.

When managing a large stock of housing, it can be tempting to standardize by painting doors and windows in the same colour. However, this can lead to a homogenising effect that leaves residents barely able to distinguish one area from another in terms of the general appearance of the houses.

This is something which Novus has taken on board when working with social housing providers and has received positive feedback from communities where colours have been used to create a neighbourhood style for the houses in a particular area. Residents reported an increased sense of identification with their locality, and a stronger sense of belonging as a result. This principle is also being used to great effect in care homes and sheltered accommodation for the elderly, where it is particularly beneficial for those with early symptoms of dementia.

In Leicester, the City Council used colour to reflect the cultural heritage of the area known as The Golden Mile, which has been the subject of a series of refurbishments in 2013. The area is home to a large number of Asian shops and eateries and the council wanted to reflect this heritage in the area. They asked local shopkeepers to contribute 10 percent towards the cost of improving the appearance of their shops if the council funded the remainder.

The uptake was high, and the council enlisted the help of Novus to mock up a variety of colour schemes for the exteriors of the buildings in the area using digital representations of how the shops would look so that council representatives could make informed decisions before the paint was applied, giving the area a dramatic lift.

Colour and shape in learning environments

The local authority buildings which are most receptive to innovative design, unusual room layouts and creative colour schemes are schools, nurseries and other educational settings. Learning environment designs, particularly those intended for younger children, are being purposefully pushed in directions that avoid conformity to expected norms.

There has been a realisation in the last decade that by incorporating irregular features and creating school rooms with a variety of shapes and lines, the building itself can be an inspiring teaching tool that fires the imagination.

Novus has worked on a range of refurbishment projects across different schools and has seen an increase in demand for creating learning areas using colour and texture of wall and floor finishes with curved interfaces. Drawing on its understanding of how colour can influence mood and behaviour, the Novus team utilises colour intelligently to create environments that inspire young people and assist teachers.

The value of innovation

The need for public buildings to compete with those in the private sector is helping to drive innovation in design. Schools, colleges and even fire stations are being created and adapted for use by whole communities, and the design of these buildings is being adjusted accordingly.

By allowing designers to innovate with the use of colour, shape, and layout, public authorities are fuelling the rise of buildings that meet the needs of a broader range of people, fulfill business demands more effectively, and strengthen communities.

Reflecting on Housing 2024

Reflecting on Housing 2024

We’re delighted to have had a successful presence at Housing 2024, a key event in our annual calendar. The three-day event sees stakeholders from across the housing sector come together at Manchester Central to discuss and collaborate to identify solutions.


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