Polychromie Architecturale

What?  In English, please!

Polychromie Architecturale, or “multi-colored architecture” in my loose translation, is a color system developed by the late, great, modernist architect, icon LeCorbusier.

Originally developed for the Swiss wallpaper company, Salubra, in 1931, the color palette was assembled as a collection of 43 colors which LeCorbusier selected from his work (both architectural & painting).  The collection doesn’t end, though, with just random colors thrown into a book for amusement. Corbu intended this book be used as a tool for color selection, as he organized the tones into 12 sample cards, in a way that a slider could be used to isolate and combine sets of 3 to 5 colors to achieve many varied color palettes from the original 43 colors.  Each of the 12 sample cards featured a different chromatic atmosphere, intended to produce a particular spatial effect.

In 1959, he recreated a second color collection with 20 single colors assembled on a single swatch, reflecting his updated, and perhaps more mature views on color.

More than just a paint swatch book, Polychromie Architectural was a color theory book, as well, with insight from Corbu on the effects color has on our psyche.  For example, in the book, he forms three principles of color as it relates to the spectator’s physiological and psychological state.  He writes, “color modifies space; color classifies objects; and, color acts physiologically upon us and reacts strongly upon our sensitivities.”

Now, this may not seem like groundbreaking theory, but you must remember, this book was first published in 1931, before the human psyche had really been a mass topic of scientific conversation / exploration. With that in mind, you can begin to understand why LeCorbusier is viewed as such an innovator, especially for his time.

The books were first reprinted in 1997, quickly selling out, making them a sought after collector’s item. Birkhauser is currently publishing a revised edition by Arthur Rüegg, since 2006 (with the addition of a collection of 150 LeCorbusier sketches) which sells for around $400.  If you can get your hands on an one of the original releases, they are highly collectable and much sought after, some going for as much as $5,000!