With repeated exposure to a place, there is a difficulty in collecting fresh impressions of the buildings, spaces, storefronts, even the people you see every day. There is an immunity to detail that is in some ways intrinsic to the urban living experience; the ability to tune out extraneous information can be like a coping mechanism. I live just off of Myrtle Avenue in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, so when asked to record my experiences as a user—in my case, a pedestrian—of this area, I wanted to find an approach that would hopefully counter my detail-immune state while providing insight in the process of gathering information, or at least demonstrate some new connections after the fact.
I set out to gather found objects, advertisements or flyers, textures through rubbings, and so on in order to create a literal collage of my sensory experiences of the street. Partly because it seemed like an interesting more focused study, and partly because Myrtle Avenue is kept remarkably clean by the local Business Improvement District sanitation service (thanks, guys), I abandoned the concept of collecting objects, and focused instead on collecting impressions of color.
Walking block to block, I noted dominant color schemes, highlighting colors, pops of paint and graffiti, reflective glass, as well as the textures and points of light that gave what I was seeing depth or focus. Without particular regard as to whether or not the dominant color impression was related to buildings or other structures, signage, storefronts, individual design elements and sometimes even interior spaces, I built the color map by recording what I saw as I walked. The finished map begins on the lower left-hand corner with Classon Avenue. Myrtle Avenue itself runs between two columns, all the way to Vanderbilt Avenue at the top right.
I was able to make a few observations from this mapping exercise, maybe most significantly that the most exciting and interesting uses of color come from the more informal land uses or expressions. The trends in building materials result in a major monotony of hues, with brick red and brown dominating the strip, punctuated by sea green glass, dark greens and royal blues. The map implied a social-spatial element to color usage, too; more unusual variations seemed to occur in the blocks furthest east, a gradual departure in from the more subdued tones (and higher rents) of the Fort Greene end of the strip.
Color, its ability to inform and influence mood, is a critical element of design that may be taken for granted in most exterior spaces. Yet many urban places, neighborhoods, commercial districts, and so on, can be defined by their dominant hues, whether they’re the result of intentional design, building materials, the type of trees planted on the street. Similarly, the influence of small pops of color, seen, for example, on a mural on the fence of a vacant lot, define the feeling of a place or space more dramatically than the neutral tones of an area’s typical building materials or vegetation.
A color analysis is naturally subjective, but can maybe highlight–literally–elements relevant to aesthetic appeal, harmony, and mood response of a user in a particular space.