The end of the Second World War saw a number of ‘satellite’ new towns develop to the north and east of London – in Hertfordshire1 and Essex in particular. With the troops returning home and their wives being cast out of the munitions factories it wasn’t long before the birth rate shot up. Furthermore, most of those lured to the new towns were newly-weds or families with young children. The Butler Education Act of 1944 had extended secondary education to all, and it soon became clear that a major school-building programme was necessary. In Hertfordshire alone it was realised that 174 new primary schools would have to be built over fifteen years.
In 1945 a new architectural department was set up in that county and one of the young architects who joined the team was David Medd. His future wife, Mary Crowley, crossed over from the education department at the same time.
Burleigh School at Cheshunt was one of the first schools built using a prefabricated modular system that Medd had helped to develop. Building started in late 1946 and finished in May 1948, largely to the design of Mary Crowley.
Although there had been a number of experiments with the design of nursery schools, some based on the early ‘Open-Air Schools’…
OPEN AIR SCHOOL
…the classic inter-war model of a classroom for all ages was the norm. Illustrated here is Priestmead School, Harrow, in Middlesex (below). Rows of locker-desks face a large blackboard, with light flooding in from the left, supplemented by clerestory lighting from the right.
A typical inter-war classroom for all ages
Here is not the place to elaborate on the philosophy behind ‘progressive’ teaching. Indeed, that was to come later, if at all. However, the success of the school-building project in Hertfordshire was due to the close links between the architects and the educationalists. The latter tried to convey in a broad visual sense the environment which they felt that children needed and the architects responded. As this all took place within a small authority like that in Hertfordshire it was possible for fine tuning to be carried out – something that would not have happened had the architects been in private practice.
It has already been shown in the post dealing with the design of factories and offices at this time, that good use of colour and lighting was crucial to improving health, stimulating morale and increasing output.
“Colour, so closely allied to lighting, was an emotional topic for the Herts team. To a generation gorged upon multi-coloured packaging, clothing and plastics, the monotony of visible hue in wartime and post-war Britain, the endlessness of the olive greens and khaki browns sanctioned by economy, camouflage and uniformity are almost unimaginable. Today, a bold splash of colour is devoid of meaning. Forty years ago it could stand for hope and a half-forgotten gaiety. That is why panels of simple, primary colours, naïve-looking today, feature so often in post-war schools and housing. In primary schools plain bright colour had extra connotations. It was a token of purity and of the learning from sensation championed by Froebel and Montessori. And it was a rejection of pre-war ‘municipal mud’, the pessimistic presumption that the dados of classroom and corridors had to be muck-coloured because grazes and grease would always be laid in by rowdy, underwashed ‘brats’.”2
Where colour was concerned, the early work on the Hertfordshire schools was to show that, if properly understood and successfully applied, it could be made to do much more than merely cover and provide a finish to surfaces. Colour could make a direct and positive contribution to the design of a building.3
It took a while to produce a collection of colours that might be appropriate for use in schools and to establish a rationale for their placement. In a letter to the author David Medd wrote:
“This range had not been developed by the time the Infant School (first phase) of the Burleigh school had to be painted. The Mander’s rep. was offering his services and I remember him in his three piece suit, and his pride in having served the pre-war architectural knights. However all he could do now was to extract from a waistcoat pocket some ancient shade cards offering us primrose & eau de Nil and camouflage and the like. In a gesture of protest we painted every surface of the infants’ school white, achieving strong colour on the fronts of dado height cupboards.”4
Medd, aided after a while by Oliver Cox, began to devise a new colour range spending several weekends mixing colours in the basement at Hertford County Hall. The pair were provided with paint by two manufacturers, R. Gay & Company and Docker Brothers,5 who they had given samples to match for them.
Some of the inspiration for the original Herts colour range came from Amédée Ozenfant, whose pre-war lectures on colour both Medd and Cox had attended at the Architectural Association. They had also read the series of six articles that he had written for the Architectural Review in 1937.6
Medd told me that they mixed the colours by eye at first and then assigned references to them afterwards, initially using the Ostwald system.
However, in his own words:
“We oscillated between Ostwald and Munsell; but our association with the Building Research Station Colour Section (run by H.L. Gloag) and the Colour Group of GB, convinced us that Munsell was superior and a more flexible system, which was widely used.”7
The Munsell system also had the advantage of allowing them to establish a direct link between colour and light, and so to use colour accurately to reflect light or diminish glare.8
“In the schools, the colours were applied in large plain areas on the panels between the steel uprights according to consistent principles of function and use. Structural members were generally pale grey; classrooms were in light, undistracting colours; halls were bright and cheerful but dignified; and the strongest colours, rich reds and yellows and blues, were reserved for circulation spaces, entrance halls and occasional outside panels on which the eye would dwell for only a few moments. The principles were codified by Oliver Cox, who remembers their effect in the early schools: “The impact of these schemes on the teachers was tremendous; few had ever seen such bold and striking use of colour in buildings before. Many dressed to match! The children took it completely for granted and carried on painting with a similar palette.” The bright, clean ‘splodges’ of colour in the schools were invariably what most struck early visitors, starved of visual sensation. Nearly all the schemes have been watered down now, and even if restored would hardly have the impact that they made at the time.”9
1) Yellow – Colour No. 15; 2) Blue – Colour No. 35; 3) Red – Colour No. 4
David Medd moved from Herts to the Ministry of Education and Oliver Cox went to the London County Council (L.C.C.). In 1950 Leslie Martin, Deputy Architect to the L.C.C., asked Cox and Medd for assistance with a colour range for the Council. Their earlier work, which was released at the beginning of 1951, as the Hertfordshire County Council Architects Department Colour Range, was adopted by the L.C.C. and many other local authorities and government departments. The L.C.C. Architect’s Department, School Division, for example, adopted the range specifically for the refurbishment of old schools in which colour could make a dramatic contribution.
The 47 systematically arranged colours (to which were added black and white) came to be known as the Archrome (Munsell) range and they were published in the Ministry of Education’s Building Bulletin No 9 of 1953 along with the rationale the architects employed in its use with particular reference to character, lighting and form. Paints based on the range became commercially available and it was open to any manufacturer to produce these colours.
The colours can be seen at the top of this page.
In the example above, which was produced by the long established Scottish paint manufacturers, Craig & Rose, a wide variety of finishes were produced in the Archrome colours. These ranged from gloss enamels and gloss paints for interior and exterior use; semi-gloss, eggshell and flat paint for interior use; flat, eggshell and semi-gloss emulsion paints for interior and exterior use and oil bound water paint for both interior and exterior use.
In David Medd’s own words:
“As the first range of colours designed by architects specifically for building purposes, it has proved to be the root from which all subsequent British Standard specifications for colour ranges for building have grown – over 50 years.”10
“The widening use of this range for which there was no direct comparison aroused the paint industry, which, it was learned, was embarking on an independent paint colour range on a “scissors and paste” basis. The RIBA was alerted, through whose Architectural Science Board (Bill Allen) a committee was formed under the chairmanship of S. Rowland Pierce to develop the Archrome range and seek its publication as a British Standard. This work concluded in the publication of BS 2660 in 1955 Colours for Building and Decorative Paints, to which the paint industry and the architectural profession had thereby become supportive. The presentation of the 101 colours was as important as its content. The colours were mounted at the edges of 10 cards, each card displaying a particular category, so that referencing by juxtaposing the patches was simple. The published standard was both, therefore, a range of colours and a design tool.”
“A second edition of BB 9 [Building Bulletin] was published by HMSO in 1956 which included a slightly modified Archrome Range to which 7 colours had been added all of which were referenced not only by Munsell notations but by BS2660 codes. In the meantime the BRS [Building Research Station] had done work on the contribution of colour to the illumination of interiors (i.e. through reflected light). This work was summarised in the Bulletin, which was also applied in the Ministry of Education’s first development project in the Secondary Modern School in Wokingham (opened 1953). This and further work is also published in the Building Bulletin and in the 3rd and 4th editions published respectively in 1962 and 1969.”
Note inter alia how the ends of the units are painted white to take full advantage of the light source opposite and to bring out the full strength of the bright colours at right angles
The extended range of 54 Archrome colours was known as Archrome 2. The colour cards of the time tended to have the Munsell references and the Light Reflectance Value, or LRV, recorded on them and architects who trained in the late 1950s were generally familiar with these.
The 1955 British Standard Range
In March 1955 an interim range, based heavily on the Archrome colours, was released for use by all Government Departments. This Colour Range of Building Paints for Government Departments was produced in booklet form on the basis that it would be superseded by a new British Standard colour chart when that was issued.
Later in the same year, the Paint Industry Colour Ranges Committee in conjunction with the RIBA and various Government Departments finally agreed on a standard range of 101 colours which incorporated most of the Archrome range. This was adopted by the British Standards Institute as B.S. 2660: 1955 Colours for Building and Decorative Paints.
Royal Festival Hall
In 2003 I had carried out an investigation of the paint of the Royal Festival Hall. The aim being to identify the original decorative scheme of 1951. At the time, I was puzzled to find a number of colours that seemed to have been taken from a British Standard colour range that was published in 1955, four years after the building was erected. I now know that this range had its origins in the one produced by Medd and Cox and that what I had identified was its earlier prototype. Puzzled, I may have been, but it seems that (according to David Medd) I had correctly identified the indirect influence of Amédée Ozenfant. At the time I had not known of their connection with Leslie Martin, who had headed the design team of the Royal Festival Hall.
Subsequently I have learnt from Dr Harriet Standeven that in the National Archives there are colour charts for the exterior colours of the Festival of Britain buildings. The charts are from R. Gay & Co., the company that helped David Medd and Oliver Cox with their Archrome trials.
Current Availability of Colours
As with almost all the colours shown on this site those shown here can be mixed into conventional modern paint by Papers and Paints Ltd
1 The name “Hertfordshire” is often abbreviated to “Herts”.
2 (Saint 1987, 90).
3 (MOE Building Bulletin No. 9, 1953, 2).
4 Medd-Baty letter 26th August 2003.
5 Both companies became part of Pinchin Johnson and Associates Limited. Gay were in West Ham and Docker in Birmingham.
6 Medd-Baty letter 26th August 2003.
Ozenfant, Amédée. “Colour: The English Tradition.” Architectural Review, 81 (January 1937) 41-44.
________. “Colour and Method.” Architectural Review, 81 (February 1937) 89-92.
________. “Colour: Experiments, Rules, Facts.” Architectural Review, 81 (April 1937) 195-98.
________. “Colour Solidity.” Architectural Review, 81 (May 1937) 243-46.
________. “Colour in the Town.” Architectural Review, 81 (July 1937) 41-44.
________. “Colour Pro Domo.” Architectural Review, 81 (August 1937) 77-80.
7 Medd-Baty letter 26th August 2003.
8 (Saint 1987, 91).
10 David Medd: 1947 – Before Archrome to after 93/101556 – 2002
1) David Medd. Throughout 2003 and 2004 I corresponded with David Medd and met him briefly at the Royal Festival Hall, where I gave a talk on my analysis of the original decoration. Our correspondence had centred on his days working on the Hertfordshire Schools project; the development of the Archrome and the later BS 2660 colour ranges and on Amedée Ozenfant. I am very grateful for the time and generosity that he showed me.
2) An excellent account of the Hertfordshire Schools project can be seen in Andrew Saint’s Towards a Social Architecture. . The Role of School-Building in Post-War England.. Yale University Press. 1987. Most of the images on this page and much of the initial text has been taken from this book.
3) Colin Mitchell-Rose for the very generous loan of a number of useful colour cards and documents.
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