Focus Work
The Colors and Paints of the Weissenhofsiedlung

Focus Work
Paweł Bejm


The general perception of the Weissenhofsiedlung, distorted by black-and-white photographs contemporary to the exhibition, is biased towards a unified image, lacking any colors and conforming with the New Building Style (Neues Bauen). However, the famous photos of pure white modernism stand in contrast to the reality captured by other contemporary sources like Reinhold Nägele's paintings, which serve as a base for uncovering the diversified color palettes used in the exhibition houses. In fact, the multitude of colors was in many cases applied not just as accents, but as materialization of complex color theories developed by the architects. Among others, the color palettes of Le Corbusier or Bruno Taut were strongly influenced by factors like durability of paint, cost of material and application, availability of natural and synthetic pigments, but also many social concerns like the individuality of expression or hygiene and health of the inhabitants. The choice of color and paint was a matter of efficiency and as such it shall be analyzed not only by theoreticians, but also evaluated from the practical perspective. By looking into four technological innovations in paint production of the early twentieth century and showing their direct impact on the architecture of the Weissenhofsiedlung a new perspective on the often-marginalized aspect of color in modern architecture is given. How did the invention of titanium white allowed white modernism to unfold, after other toxic pigments were banned in 1927? How modern whitewashing outperformed traditional lime paint and fostered hygienic lifestyle? How refinement of an old fresco technique enabled the invention of a ground-breaking, durable Keim mineral paint? Or how the Salubra color collection allowed Le Corbusier to immortalize his color schemes for future generations. Thereby particular interest lies in seeing 'color' and 'paint' not isolated but instead in a relationship between theory and practice, highlighting the direct connection between architecture, art and industry.


Dr. Matthew James Wells