Friday, 25 April 2014

Avant-garde: Black vs. White

Text : Nor Azua Ruslan

[ Dressing Architecture : Colour, Style & Fashion ]
In Relation With Architects and Clothing

Original works submitted to the Manchester School of Architecture for the Bachelor of Architecture dated April 2009. Received a commendation in Summer 2010.

4.0] Avant-garde: Black vs. White

Video : How to dress like an architect | Understanding Architecture, pt.10

I came across this website called which selling various fancy dresses specialized for children’s costume. Upon clicking on the Vocational tab in the web, I found this intriguing section selling various costumes for various professions such as Barrister, Golfer, Soldier, Chef, Astronaut, Ballerina, Sailor, Doctor, High court Judge and even Architect’s costume can be bought here.
FIG.4.1: The Architect Costume sold in The Toy Factory website

This company describes the Architect’s costume they sell as;
Although there are several different ‘types’ of architect who will wear a gamut of styles, many of them do find themselves at some time or other in their career dressed in black! This outfit comprises a black polo neck with a black designer suit with ‘Nehru’ style collar formed from exquisite materials. The glasses are included as a reference to Le Corbusier who remains a design icon for many.[11]
For £35 .00, kids can be ‘Le Corbusier Junior’ by dressing in the ‘Architect’ costume as FIG.4.1 shown above. Amazingly, the architect’s costume costs the same as a high court judge, more than a barrister, an English knight, a Warrior, Robin Hood or any other character. Which kid would want to dress up as an architect? For the same amount of money, one could purchase two other different fairytale outfits. The long and winding architecture journey, but in the end resulted as a glamorous profession must have been affecting why the architect’s costumes are sold at this price.

FIG.4.2: Range of other costume sold in The Toy Factory website. In circled; ‘Architect’ costume sell at £35

The company describes black as the architect’s colour while the glasses/spectacles are reminiscing of the legendary architect, Le Corbusier. In normal life, black is associated with mourning and sad. Moreover, black is the colour of grieving. Does it mean architects wear black to reflect their insecure feeling towards their unrealistic project or probably because they feel that this profession is full of depression? Is it therefore black is chosen as the emotion colour for architects? In December 2008, The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that Engineering, Architecture and Surveyors are the lowest rates of past year major depression episode, while Arts and Design profession is one of the top ten most depressing jobs as shown in FIG.4.3.[12]

FIG.4.3: Past Year Major Depressive Episode (MDE) among Full-Time Workers Aged 18 to 64, 
by Occupational Categories

On the other hand, black outfit is substantially used in other glamorous and formal functions as well, such as Annual Dinner or AGM, conferences, red carpet event and many other limelight functions. Therefore, black is universal and regardless as an elegant colour in most occasion. In most architects’ portraits, black is a colour that looks good on everyone and makes the photography cleaner, sharper, crisper and elegant. That is why most architects wear basic black when the camera starts to flash. Has it become a trend? I say yes because pictures speak a thousand words, FIG.3.4 is what I found while surfing the internet;
FIG.4.4: Architects portraits found on the internet
All black is very safe and easy way to dress up. It’s not very good for your mood but sometimes, you just want to focus on your work, and your clothing is just a necessity, that’s when I dress all in black![13]
It cannot be determined when exactly black colour has been associated with the architect, but remember Le Corbusier’s spectacles and his briar pipe, shown on the final page of ‘Vers une Architecture’? Ironically, black and white was the rule. But this was not universal; it was the architecture of ‘avant-garde’. However, in the eyes of the public, the attention of this black association with the architects has seem become permanent. As an example, L’Oreal Company has launched their L’Oreal Lash Architect Carbon Gloss Mascara in one of their cosmetic line. They described it as;
Plunge into glossy black; Discover Lash Architect, L’Oreal’s first false lash effect mascara in Carbon Gloss for dramatic, ultra black lashes to last you through the night. Lashes look longer and thicker from every angle thanks to the 3D effect formula, while the patented spiral brushes gives volume and separation from root to tip. With carbon black pigments, this is our glossiest, blackest mascara yet![14]  

FIG.4.5: L’Oreal Lash Architect Carbon Gloss mascara. 

FIG.4.6: Ken Yeang’s portrait in black outfit

For some reason, black has become an official colour for architects’ profession. Or possibly, architects themselves set this colour code for their profession. So, architects may be the trendsetter for no particular reason; neither because they are mourning nor because they are celebrating something. But this is simply because they feel comfortable and look confident in just basic black. That is why I myself chose black top on my first day of working in my entire life. In addition, even Ken Yeang who wears everyday-white shirt chose black for his portraits sessions. He simply loves white but why he chose black? Simple answer is he will definitely look good in black for portrait.
In the next chapter, I shall explain about him who loves wearing white shirt and how white is affecting his whole entire architect’s profession as one of the world's leading architects in ecological and passive low energy design.

[11] ‘The Toy Factory’, Fancy Dress For Children: Vocational, (accessed on Feb 2009)
[13] Interview between author and Zaini Mufti (Feb 2009)
[14] (accessed on April 2009)