Markus Frenzl

Of White Cities and Grey Cubes. On the design history, the history of the origin and reception of the renunciation of colour and a modernity perceived as chromophobic


For decades, 20th century modernism in architecture and design was regarded by the public, but often even among experts, as hostile to colour, emotionless, sober and cold. In the 1960s or 1970s, for example, colourfulness was often understood as a conscious counter-position to a colourless functionalism. Even in specialist literature and university teaching, the image of a "chromophobic"[1] modernity had been cultivated for decades. Since the 1990s, this narrative has been replaced by a new one: now black-and-white photography, for example at the Bauhaus or the Ulm School of Design, is being blamed for the fact that the wrong image of an anti-colour modernism was created, which in reality was astonishingly colourful.

But is the presumed "chromophobia" of modernism in architecture and design really just a phenomenon of reception? What was the change in the meaning of colour in the early 20th century? How was colour renunciation actually justified? What role do material colours play, e. g. of the new industrial materials? What changes in the use of colours in architecture and design by the protagonists of modernism can be observed? What reactions did for example Bruno Taut provoke with his "Call for Colourful Building"[2]? What functions are assigned to colour in the colour systems and theories of the early 20th century? Where was the renunciation of colour used to emphasize the ideas of a new society and the "New Man"? And where did the chromophobia of modernism possibly become the conscious defamation strategy of the critics of functionalism?

The research project examines the perception phenomena, simplifications, semiotic aspects and dominant narratives that have led to the impression of a white modernism that continues to this day. It is thus also intended to be an investigation of the long-term effect of perceptual patterns, which often have a greater impact than the reality of what is actually designed, built or produced.​

Prof. Dr. Klaus Klemp

Prof. Petra Kellner

[1] D. Batchelor (2000): Chromophobia, London. Deutschsprachige Ausgabe: D. Batchelor (2002): Chromophobie – Angst vor der Farbe. Übersetzt von Michael Huter. Wien: WUV, p. 62.

[2] B. Taut (2000): Der Regenbogen – Aufruf zum farbigen Bauen [first 1919 in: bauwelt, o.A, 1919]. In B. Taut: Frühlicht 1920-1922. Eine Folge für die Verwirklichung des neuen Baugedankens. Berlin/Frankfurt/Wien: de Gruyter, p. 97.