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Interview with Stefan Schrammel: No colour without light, no light without colour

Stefan Schrammel

Light and colour go hand in hand, says Stefan Schrammel from Augsburg-based Schrammel Architekten/Stadtplaner. Together with acoustics, they determine whether we feel comfortable in a room or not. In the interview, Schrammel explains how light and colour are interrelated, and what architects should keep in mind when designing lighting.

When do we find rooms pleasant, and when do we feel uncomfortable in them?

That depends on various different factors. The most important are light, colour and acoustics. Naturally, the materials and surfaces are also part of it, because they reflect light, colour and sound. These factors must be considered in terms of their interaction with each other, because they are highly dependent on each other. The occupants or users of a room therefore won't be able to say in concrete terms what makes them feel comfortable or not in it.

What can be achieved with the right lighting?

Artificial light and daylight can enhance the spatial impression of a room, but can also destroy it. Initially, the question always arises as to what a room can do or what it is supposed to do. A living room should therefore be viewed differently to an office space. The light must adapt to the respective requirements and must be conducive to them.

And what influence does colour have?

Light and colour are inextricably linked and influence our perception. Bruno Taut once put it very nicely: "Where there is light there must also be colour." This correlation is important, because we absorb around 80% of the information about our environment through our eyes. And colour is the biggest part of it. Colour and light interact with each other and play an enormous role.

And yet most walls at home and in the office are white.

There are no right or wrong colours, and the individual situation determines whether something is right or wrong. But the eye is looking for contrast and colour. Our vision is based on comparing colours, because unlike with musical sounds, we cannot perceive colours absolutely. In a completely white room there is nothing to attract us, and such a room quickly seems boring. However, if you add individual touches of colour, or a white room contains people, these compensate for the white, low-stimulus space shell.

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Which combinations of light and colour then have a positive effect on well-being and performance?

Colour must always be seen in connection with surfaces and materials. Visual experience also plays a role in perception. The colour brown combined with a grain is associated with wood, and most people have positive connotations of wood. There are no universally valid statements when it comes to which light and colour combination is particularly good for humans or inspires them to work well. It all depends on the mood of a particular person.

Modern lighting concepts take into account both visual and non-visual lighting effects. After all, people's needs should be at the heart of every lighting concept. Today, under the name of Human Centric Lighting (HCL), there are many systems on the market that support the human circadian rhythm. Correct lighting can increase the sense of well-being and thus also improve performance.

People who feel good work better. To what extent is influencing people with the appropriate lighting to work better and achieve more a form of manipulation?

The efficiency of a person doesn't just depend on the light. The entire spatial design also plays a role – the arrangement of the windows, the view, the noise in a room. In principle, lighting that enhances well-being and thus performance isn't objectionable in itself. Human Centric Lighting can support the natural daily rhythm and increase performance into the evening, but it cannot outsmart people. Evolution cannot be easily changed with a light switch. In this respect, I consider these fears to be unfounded.

What should an architect do when developing the colour and lighting concept for a room?

At the end of the explanatory text on the use of his Salubra wallpaper collection, Le Corbusier's advice is: "....let the imagination run wild." But it's not that simple. The architect must first of all listen carefully to the client. Who uses the room? How should it be used? What is its purpose? When all this is clear, the hard factors such as the geometry of the building, the location of the plot and the alignment of the windows also need to be taken into account. Only then can the colour design and lighting be planned, and the materials and surfaces coordinated with them.

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Large window areas allow a lot of light into the interior. On sunny days, however, the sunlight adversely affects computer screens. As a result, the blinds are lowered and the ceiling lighting is switched on. In summer this happens more often than in winter. Which light should I as a planner take into account when choosing surfaces and colours?

In actual fact, this scenario should no longer exist. Shading with traditional blinds or roller blinds can be avoided using smart technical building systems. Lighting conditions change constantly – during the course of the day and the year. It is therefore virtually impossible to align surfaces and colours with a certain time of day or season. When it comes to natural materials, we have already learned in any case how to deal with the corresponding colour changes.

How should I approach sampling with this knowledge?

We always try to work with samples that are as large as possible – ideally sample rooms. We prefer to show the materials where they will stand, hang or lie in the future, with the light that will be present in the future. Unfortunately, this is often impossible, and then large original samples should be used instead. It is very important to get the client to look at the samples once in daylight and once in artificial light, and not just briefly on a beautiful summer's day.

And what if I want to transform a room after four or five years say into a hotel room?

Each colour concept is always a child of its time, and that's a good thing. But the paints on buildings, too, cannot escape fashion trends. If a colour concept is decisive and coherent, then it will outlast fashion. Verner Panton's fixtures and fittings are the best example of this. But sometimes radical transformations are not always possible or desirable. Then it's advisable to use highly fashionable colours on building components that can be easily changed again: on steel door frames, for example. These can be painted over after two or three years. If I radically transform an existing room with colour, make it lighter or darker or change the furniture completely, then naturally the lighting should also be adjusted. Paint is one of the "cheapest" building materials, and sometimes a little more awareness of the possible uses and effects in combination with daylight and artificial light would be desirable.

Interview: Thomas Jakob

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