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Cultures, Communities and Design

Colour seduction: Foster Associates strategies for architectural visual communication
G. Hernández
11:00 am - 1:00 pm


This proposal explores the impact of colour in visual communication strategies at elaborating and producing architectural ideas. This study has been under-regarded by architectural historians since the last decades of the 20th century. However, other fields have proved more fruitful in this approach, with Jacques Derrida’s archival turn and Bruno Latour’s spatial turn being significant examples. More recently, Albena Yaneva’s ethnography of design provides new research methodologies enabling this study: how a relevant group of architects, Foster Associates, developed during the early 1970s a very particular way of understanding colour as a tool to depict atmospheres, and therefore, to engage clients in the process of space making. Since the founding of Foster Associates (FA) by Norman and Wendy Foster in 1967, the practice’s working methodology adopted effective visual communication amongst team members, clients, and users through constant meetings, debates, and reviews which included colour in different variants. FA’s office in Fitzroy Street was designed as a colourful performative stage to fuel interactions, dialogues and continuous feedback that proved colour as an essential component in all phases of Foster’s design process. The variety of Foster Associate’s architectural drawings, textual files and inhouse publications now hosted at the Norman Foster Foundation (NFF) Archive confirms the importance of this study, structured around three key axes. One is the composition of the office’s interaction spaces, embedded amongst yellows, greens, and blues. The second is the impact of the architectural setting on the graphic outcomes produced in that space – tracing how those colours evolved into FA’s colour palette in presentation storyboards, vignettes and comic strips, tailor-made facility manuals, and adapted instruction books for users. Thirdly, the strategy of convincing contractors to place colour photographs in architectural magazines when colour was expensive and not affordable.


Gabriel Hernández (Gran Canaria, Spain) is an architect, researcher, and lecturer. His research interests focus on graphic tools and creative processes, with a particular interest in the links between architecture, art, design and the environment. He graduated as an architect from the ETSAM (UPM) and has carried out research stays at ENSA Paris La Villette, CUJAE in Havana and CEPT University in Ahmedabad. His professional experience includes positions as Head of Education and Research at the Norman Foster Foundation and Artistic Projects Coordinator at Ivorypress and collaborations at the architectural studios of Andrés Perea Arquitectos, Salvador Pérez Arroyo and Atelier Cité Architecture. Since 2020, he is an Associate Professor in the Department of Architectural Composition at the UPM and, more recently, the Dean’s Delegate for the Doctoral Studies Management and Architecture Archive at the ETSAM.