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The Color of Cities: An International Perspective Paperback – 1 Mar 2003

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THE COLOR OF CITIES: An International Perspective by Lois Swirnoff"Reviewed by Charles Redmon, FAIA, a principal of Cambridge Seven Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a former president of the Boston Society of ArchitectsExcerpts from review: What an original and fascinating way to look at city form and character: to dissect the built environment through the lens of color and light. Linking the perception of color to the incidence of light, Lois Swirnoff (who is also a brilliant photographer) takes us on a richly illustrated journey to many of the major urban centers of the Northern Hemisphere. Her thesis is that the color or urban environments is directly linked to the differing angle at which the sun's rays hit the earth's surface. The steeper the angle (closest to the equator), the more intense the use of bright, saturated colors reflecting this brilliant light; and the shallower the angle, the greater the prevelant use of softer, more subtle colors. The book is organized as a series of written and photographic essays. These anecdotal travelogues tour different latitudes, focusing upon the impact of location, light, and shadow, and are coupled with descriptions of the elements of streetscape, facades, and building materials. When the text and images are tightly interlocked and developed, the book's thesis is clearly and forcefully presented. The author's description of how the colors of natural materials (such as in the temple at Segesta in Sicily) change from light to shade, transforming into complementary hues through the seasons and times of day, richly illustrates her message. And her description of the change in the color of the ocean through the seasons andwith proximity to the earth's equator also conveys a powerful message about the angle-of-light's impact upon regional colors. ...Lois Swirnoff undertook a difficult theis, linking solar positioning to urban colors. At the same time she rightfully discusses all the other factors that shape the character, form, and color of urban places: city plan and design; vernacular expressions; local traditions; building materials; natural setting; growth and change; people and personalities; and cultural heritage. In the final analysis, it is really this amalgam of influences that shapes and forms urban places. But looking at all these factors through her colored looking glass is certainly worth the journey.

From the Back Cover


Architecture and urban design define a locale by giving it structure and form. But less obviously, and more fundamentally, color has a significant impact on the overall perception of an urban environment. The Color of Cities: An International Perspective is the first book to explore the complex interactions that inform and shape this perception. It documents the use of color in urban areas around the world, showing how color contributes to a city's unique character and appearance.

Over 500 full-color photographs support this ground-breaking work by noted color theorist Lois Swirnoff. Drawing on specific examples from cities in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia, The Color of Cities demonstrates how local color selection is rooted in the geophysical, determined in large part by how colors originate in and are altered by the angle of the Sun's rays. And the book explains how the intensity of light differs globally, from the direct beam of the Equatorial regions to the angular glow of cities near the poles.

Using dimensional color as her premise, Swirnoff explores the links between a culture's distinctive character and its color choices, and describes how color plays a role in building the environment. You'll also see some unexpected similarities in different cities' use of color in standard urban features such as facades, streets and plazas, boundaries, and marketplaces. For easy reference, the book is organized according to these features, with abundant photographic examples for comparison. What's more, a photographic appendix offers a summary overview of the color palettes of cities and locales. It all adds up to the most in-depth, most complete look at the pivotal role of color in urban design and one you'll refer to again and again.

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To its inhabitants the modern city is a mere backdrop, a neutral stage to the theater of daily activities. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A visual, historical and sociological treat! 20 Sept. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The is a somewhat remarkable book, worth the high price tag. Swirnoff tackles an unique issue: the role of color/light in forming a particular city's identity. She cites (and sites) examples from New York to Santa Fe to Venice to Mexico to Paris to the Caribbean to Stockholm to Japan and many others, too. The book has many photo examples, both black-and-white and color, as well as quite thought provoking written discussion.This is a much-needed book, focusing on an important issue of local identity at a time when globalization challenges the specifics of space and place. The book would appeal to travellers, visual artists, architects, sociologists, urban planners and many others.
4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The Color of Cities 13 Feb. 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a colorist for the last twenty years, specializing in exterior building color I was sorely disappointed to read this book. Basically everything she had to say of import could have be said in an essay. The author has a wonderful vocabulary but after wading through all the prose one finds there is liitle said that isn't entirely obvious. I was left with the impression that this book was concieved as a great excuse to travel to the world's really wonderful places. You will note that she not traveled to Lubbock or Erzerum.
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