The Landscape Guide

Colour Plans, Green Belts, Green Towns, Greenways, Minerals, Public Open Space, Sustainability, Urban Design, Village Envelopes


Position Statement

Colour Planning, in towns and in the countryside, will enable us, not only to co-ordinate the new with the old, but to use colour creatively as an active, expressive medium.


Colour, being light, may seem difficult to plan. It can be considered, for planning purposes, as either active or passive. ‘Active colour’ refers to paint, colour-wash, ceramics, plastics and other applied finishes. ‘Passive colour’ refers to their context, in the form of the built or landscape background. Since active colour tends to be dynamic and expressive, it should be used with care and precision. We can learn from nature: the brightest colours are usually the most restricted in size or duration.

Planning and Conservation regulations deal more or less effectively with passive or contextual colour. They are ill-suited to dealin with the problems of applied colour, which are rapidly becoming chaotic. This is due in part to availability (the number of dye and paint colours having increased from a few hundred in the 1960’s to some 3 million by the 1980’s, of which 9000 had been marketed), in part to commercialisation and the growth of advertising, and in part to the greater freedoms which lead people to consider colour purely as a matter of personal choice. Colour chaos is apparent in shopping streets and industrial areas.

Where colour planning is practised in Britain it is generally restrictive, stipulating the use of muted colours to reduce the impact of large building complexes, such as power stations and military installations in conserved landscapes. This had led to a few outstanding examples in rural areas drawing upon the lessons of camouflage. The need for urban colour planning is hardly acknowledged.

Some significant examples of urban Colour Planning exist in the countries of mainland Europe, where colour design and planning offices have been established for some time. Among them, the colour restoration of the city of Turin is remarkable both for its breadth and its duration. This was based on a scheme developed over the first half of the nineteenth century using more than eighty colours. They were co-ordinated to enhance the city and emphasise the main processional routes. The restoration of these colours has been in progress for nearly 20 years. Similar historical approaches have been adopted for villages, towns and cities in most other European countries.

Although based largely on precedents, existing (historical) colours, materials and contexts, Colour Planning need not be prescriptive. The aim should be to provide guidelines in the form of colours that would be acceptable in relation to one another and to those existing. Such guidelines shouold be based on detailed colour surveys, analysis of the effects, and predictions of changes and future developments.

Colour Planning should be practised at the different scales of development. The first scale is the single unit - for example, the house. The second scale is the street. The third scale is the district or community. The fourth scale is the town, city or landscape. The scales are inter-related. Houses have an impact on the neighbouring houses, and on the street as a whole; street colours have an impact adjoining streets and upon the area as a whole, which itself affects the landscape. While an understanding of the effects of colour at all levels is vitally important, responsibility for implementation increases from that of the individual to that of extended community by progressive stages which must be the subject of professional consultations.

We recommend the preparation of Colour Plans as supplementary guidance notes to local plans.

Contact: Michael Lancaster