Most buildings begin with an idea or an image: the architect muses over a concept, sketches a form, or mulls client requests. Emmanuelle Moureaux is different. The first thing the French-born, Tokyo-based architect does when she sits down to tackle a new project is decide how many colors she’ll use. Eight? Fifteen? Thirty? Lime green? Lollipop pink? Sky blue? Whether the end product is an outrageously cheerful bank or a rainbow-bright lacquered cabinet, color is Moureaux’s preferred tool for evoking rhythm, depth, and emotion. “I use colors as three-dimensional elements to create space, not as a finishing touch applied to surfaces,” says Moureaux, the principal of Emmanuelle Moureaux Architecture + Design. She calls the style shikiri, meaning “to divide and create space through color.”
It is not an approach she learned at architecture school in Bordeaux, where color was treated mostly as an afterthought. But in 1995, Moureaux took a weeklong trip to Tokyo to research her graduate project and found herself immersed in a cityscape unlike any she had ever seen. Vending machines, signs, electrical wires, and glimpses of sky floated in a multilayered, multicolored panorama. The experience was an epiphany. “Tokyo was like an art piece that made you feel emotion,” she says. She moved there the following year, and seven years later, in 2003, she started her own firm.
Since then, Moureaux’s approach has evolved from using flat screens of color to a more complex exploration of lines, shapes, and textures. In one recent project, large colored squares float on the facade of a bank, creating the illusion of rhythmic movement for passersby. In another, she suspended sheets of paper in 100 brilliant shades from the ceiling of an exhibition space, then asked visitors to select their favorite. Moureaux’s choice? “White,” she says. “Because it is the most important for making the other colors appear beautiful.”