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    Learning by colour: Paints and coatings in the education sector

    Geraldine Chua

    Designed by Atelier Alter, the Beijing No.12 Kindergarten is a visual feast of bold colours and clean lines. Building blocks served as inspiration for the project team, who say they began the project by converting its scale from a grown-up’s point of view to a child’s perspective.

    “The design essentially tries to create a pure and simple paradise with memorable spaces for children,” they explain. “By looking through the lens of a child, the purity of childhood is well preserved in the architecture.”

    Undeniably, the most attention-grabbing detail of the building is its use of colours—at first glance, seemingly selected at random. However, the colours were actually informed by research into early childhood development and colour psychology. Primary colours were ultimately chosen because the design team found that vision—and an understanding of colour—begins to mature gradually after the age of six. Plus, they had observed that many pre-school children, including their own, reacted more positively toward bright coloured objects.

    “More specifically, it appears that warm primary colours not only appeal to children more, but also trigger their sense of curiosity,” they say. “The combined research and real-life observations made us realise how colours can be of great importance for educational institutions.”

    Compared to the muted and minimalist­ trends pervading our homes and offices, colour continues to live in abundance in our schools. The reason for this is simple: colours can affect a child’s feelings, attention, behaviour—and overall learning experience.

    “Colour is an inseparable part of our everyday lives. It’s inherent in everything we see and do, and studies indicate that it plays a role in emotion, productivity, communication and learning,” says Craig Salen, commercial manager at Haymes Paint explains.

    “Researchers have examined the effect of ‘colour mood’ on student performance. Muted colours may be calming, help maintain attention, maximise retention and enhance participation and learning. Vibrant colours can stimulate activity but also distract students, therefore effective selection and combination of colour is vital. Lighting and other architectural features, including windows and ceiling height also play essential roles when considering the application of colour.”

    For Beijing No. 12 Kindergarten, the variety of colours in the elevation, as well as in the interior and exterior environments, are designed to help stimulate the kindergarteners’ senses, while encouraging them to explore in the spaces and shapes. Blue is used for the nursery, green for toddlers and orange for pre-school kids—each shade used to create different emphases.

    For most institutions, colour palettes are governed by the education level being designed for. Bursts of primary colours like yellow, orange, bright blue and lime—cheerful, optimistic, and relatively gender neutral—are common in pre-school environments. For institutions with older students, colours tend to be more complex and deeper, or more weathered and lighter.

    In universities, the punchy primary and secondary brights return as a wayfinding device. These pops of colour usually juxtapose a mix of neutrals, from off whites through to greys and blacks.

    “Tertiary institutions tend to be so much larger that the colour palette tends to be more focused on usability of the space and for wayfinding to help students navigate to their classes quickly, rather than being limited to one palette throughout, which tends to make everything look similar and it’s harder to identify where you are,” explains Karen Warman, Resene’s marketing manager.

    Neutral tones have their place too, and are most commonly found in expansive and communal areas. 

    When selecting the colours to be painted, stained, coated or printed for your education project, prior research and ‘concepting’ is critical. The design team for St Clare’s College’s new Centre for Innovation carried out extensive research into their ‘target users’—Generation Z, female high-school students—before they settled on a colour scheme. This included finding out the brands and apps the students buy into, and the ideas they value.

    “We opted for pastel tones rather than primary colours. This represents the shift in age bracket of the students but also promotes a calm environment, allowing the pupils to focus,” explains Eva Krane, director at Studio Z, who worked with Black Sheep on the project. “A well-considered palette can actually balance our hormones as well.”

    Institution identity also played a part in the team’s colour strategy. At the Centre for Innovation, colours reflect the core values of the school—purple tones for women of justice and individuality; aquas and turquoise tones for the spirit of community, love for God, self and others; and yellow and mustards to represent joy and happiness. These different shades also zone the new library into various learning zones—purple for quiet and individual study areas, through to the yellows, used for informal and interactive learning spaces.

    “It was important to find a balance between within the palette. Too much variety can lead to overstimulation, however too little can lead to boredom,” explains Krane. “Next to colour, we also developed a graphic texture, manifested in a glazing film, which visualises the process of innovating. The colours in glass film and interior finishes are secondary and consist of different hues of a tone. The idea is to stimulate creative thinking and help orientation through colour coding different zones.”

    The worst mistake a specifier can make is selecting a product purely based on its colour, and neglecting performance.

    Expected life, durability and ease of maintenance are some of the key criteria Resene’s Warman suggests specifiers take note of when deciding what to use for their education projects. Low odour and VOC paints that can be recoated relatively quickly are also preferred.

    “Most educational buildings focus on paints rather than stains, as paints tend to last longer before maintenance is required,” she notes. “Education buildings come in for a lot of wear and tear with the constant flow of students, so being able to quickly prep and recoat in a low VOC and low odour product will ensure any future disruption is minimised when maintenance is required.”

    A full version of this article is available in the November/December 2017 issue of Infolink | BPN.

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