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Sauerbruch Hutton: Architects of Polychromy

With their new book Sauerbruch Hutton: Colour in Architecture, Berlin-based Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton make clear their penchant for polychromy. Narelle Yabuka has this story.


BY jesse

4 April, 2012

“Polychromatic architecture has been so out of practice,” says Matthias Sauerbruch, “that using as much colour as we do is considered a distinguishing feature.”

Embracing their notoriety, Sauerbruch Hutton has recently released a monograph with which they hope to invigorate the conversation about colour on and in buildings.

Sauerbruch Hutton

Sauerbruch Hutton’s monograph. Photo: noshe

It’s a conversation that languished, says Louisa Hutton, under the widely adopted dogma of the modernist white cube – a concept that was, in fact, somewhat flawed having been partially manufactured within architectural journals.

Sauerbruch Hutton

Cologne Oval Offices. Photo: Jan Bitter

Challenging the dogma that lives on, the book Sauerbruch Hutton: Colour in Architecture (published by Distanz Verlag, 2012) is a showcase for 9 of the firm’s colour-rich projects. It is, however, much more than this.

Through project descriptions and other texts, the book gently introduces the reader to the complexities inherent in Sauerbruch Hutton’s practice of designing with and thinking about colour – materialising colour; using colour to manipulate impressions of space and form; perceiving colour in the built environment; and connecting colour with place.

Sauerbruch Hutton

Photonics Centre. Photo:

While it provides a window to the aesthetic experience of the firm’s work, the book also makes one aware of the bodily experience of the buildings – their sensual impact – as well as the sustainable ethos with which they are crafted.

Sauerbruch Hutton

M9 Museum. Image: Sauerbruch Hutton

Sauerbruch Hutton

Low2No mixed-use housing. Image: Sauerbruch Hutton

The sensory and sustainable factors are often intertwined. “There are many layers to the reason why one does sustainable architecture,” says Hutton, suggesting that the impetus should come from architects as well as clients. “I hope that a sense of corporate social responsibility (and employee relations) as well as legislation can encourage clients to think about how natural they would like the environments inside their buildings to be,” she says.

Sauerbruch HUtton

Federal Environment Agency. Photo: Hutton


Federal Environment Agency. Photo: Annette Kisling/Sauerbruch Hutton

Adjustable panes of coloured enamel-coated glass have played significant roles in the breathing skins of many of Sauerbruch Hutton’s buildings. Recently, polychromy has been investigated via glazed ceramic – a material the architects describe as “stable and self-cleaning” as well as capable of offering very subtle tones.

“It’s difficult to talk about colours,” says Sauerbruch. “Just agreeing on one word to describe a single colour is hard.” Talking about colour in architecture understandably involves a degree of increased complexity. The book keeps the conversation at a level that will be understood by many, while communicating the highly considered voices of its authors and the sense of responsibility with which they carry out their work.

Sauerbruch HUtton

Brandhorst Museum. Photo: Annette Kisling/Sauerbruch Hutton

“The need for a sustainable attitude towards urbanism and architecture gives architects, clients, and cities a chance to see that one should work with a sense of local identity and try to make buildings that are particular for their sites,” says Hutton.

She adds, “Coupled with globalisation is the increasing privatisation of people with their portable devices. I think it’s very important therefore to create places that are individual and that appeal directly to the senses.”

Sauerbruch Hutton

GSW Headquarters. Photo: Annette Kisling/Sauerbruch Hutton

Top image: Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton. Photo: Charity Goh.

Sauerbruch Hutton

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