Bright colours in reflected light: The colours of dutch architecture

Colour determines how we see different countries. It is sufficient, for example, to say ‘Mexico’ and anyone who has been there will instantly see an image rich in colour. Northern Europe’s colour range is less full of contrasts. When you arrive in the Netherlands, you immediately sense the amount of thought that has gone into the chromatic design of the three-dimensional environment.

Bright colours in reflected light: The colours of dutch architecture

To a large extent, this chromatic rationality is the fruit of work by Dutch designers. It is amazing how one man (together with his large design of ce) has in effect been able to exert such a massive in uence on the habitat of an entire country. The corporate colours and logos of the largest airport in the Netherlands (Schiphol), the Dutch railways, the police service, the post of ce, and the ambulance and re services were all created by Studio Dumbar.

A pioneer of ironic modernism in graphic design, Gert Dumbar has fundamentally changed the way the Netherlands looks. For more than 40 years now, almost all Dutch trains — and it would be dif cult to imagine the Dutch urban and rural landscape without them — have been painted yellow. Dumbar skilfully employs colour’s ability to communicate and warn. His strict logic of colour has saved many people’s live in extreme situations, with the visually well-trained Dutch being capable of recognizing his colour code within seconds.

And yet, for all the strictness of his approach and its emphasis on easy orientation, Dumbar’s work always contains an element of subtle irony. Re ned details and nuances show us that graphic design, like all true art, cannot be con ned to the rigid frame of pure functionality. By his works Dumbar has imparted to the Dutch urban environment diversity and a measure of fun — something which distinguishes the Netherlands from neighbouring countries. The creative discoveries made by Dutch designers could not fail to inspire architects and urban planners.

Netherlands Auditor’s Office, The Hague. Aldo und Hannie van Eyck, 1997  Colour design by Jaap Hillenius

Netherlands Auditor’s Office, The Hague. Aldo und Hannie van Eyck, 1997 Colour design by Jaap Hillenius

Life Science Faculty, University of Groningen. Rudy Uytenhaak Architectenbureau, 2010

Life Science Faculty, University of Groningen. Rudy Uytenhaak Architectenbureau, 2010

Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi), Rotterdam. Jo Coenen Architects, 1993  Lighting for the covered gallery by Peter Struycken

Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi), Rotterdam. Jo Coenen Architects, 1993 Lighting for the covered gallery by Peter Struycken