Wednesday, November 30

interview: new zealand colour society

Photos by Lucy Orbell

Lucy Orbell recently announced a project that invites everyone to consider and show thanks for colour. The New Zealand Colour Society's website has pre-made "thank you" cards for anyone to download and pop into the mailbox of a property they admire. I sent Lucy a few questions to understand her thinking behind such a social and gently encouraging project.

What is the New Zealand Colour Society?

The New Zealand Colour Society is a project trying to invigorate our world with colour - basically, it's a colour appreciation society. The idea centres around a belief that colour makes the world a more stimulating place to be, and that particularly in NZ, we're not the creators of the most colourful environments. The project offers people the chance to say "thank you" to those who've taken a risk with a bold move - such as painting their home bright, unconventional or multiple colours.

What led you to bridging that gap between admiring colourful buildings and creating a social project centred on that admiration?

Frustration really. I'd been living in Berlin for a year and a half and was thinking about my return home. I actually felt upset at returning to all the grey villas of NZ. Somehow, inherently, that represented a certain kind of homogeneity, a conservatism, and it made me feel resistant to coming home. What I love about Europe, and living in Germany in particular, is that even if buildings aren't vibrant in their colour use, they'll all be painted warm shades of terracotta, or a soft fawn that's a warm light yellow or pale pink. I loved that there was warmth to the environment and it accentuated for me the coldness of the colour palette that's common in NZ.

So, I came home. One day I was walking up Wallace St in Wellington and noticed a house that was painted three colours. It was simple but they'd used colour to highlight aspects of the house's detail - an old railway cottage - and I hadn't seen this house before - that is - it wasn't painted like this before I left for NZ. I felt gratitude, and thought: I wish I could thank them. The idea expanded itself then and there. And so I decided dropping off thank you notes in people's letterboxes was the best way to encourage vivid colour use.

What are three of your favourite buildings in your city?

I live in Wellington, and I just love the Michael Fowler Centre. It's my favourite. Sometimes I get anxious about earthquakes and walk past it and think: what would happen if you didn't exist (I'm quite attached to architecture)? It's also a phenomenal place to listen to music, but its curving steel aesthetic gets me every time.

I love the Aston Towers apartment building on Abel Smith St. It has a lovely late modernist look, and when I first moved here I was so keen to live there. Now whenever apartments come up for sale in the building I think, "will I buy it?". So one day I may end up there.

I live in an elegant villa that's been well-taken care of and is a place to feel comfortable. I love that when people walk in they want to sit down and they want to stay. There's something very special about that. So maybe it has to be my favourite.

Can you describe an interesting interaction that has come from giving thanks? 

Just on the weekend I ended up at a party with a former teacher of mine - I hadn't seen her for 17 years. I always admired her, and felt that she'd offered me important guidance towards the end of my schooling. She was cool. Anyway, we were having a big catch up, and I said: You were such a wonderful teacher. And not too much more, but she really responded with thanks, and emotion, it meant something to her. And I thought: how these simple words, which surely didn't convey the extent of my appreciation for her, not at all, had impact. How we all need to hear that we're OK, that we have done a good job, that we have been loved.

What kind of thoughtfulness do you hope this project will create/emphasise?

I hope people will be excited, or enthusiastic when they see a fabulous exterior - because they'll be able to act, and communicate via the thank you notes. So often we want to say something small, but don't have the chance. And I do believe in connecting people, and connecting ideas, so this is a random opportunity to create a little surprise and to say, "I noticed". But of course, I want people to think about why they make the colour choices they do - colour isn't scary - so just try something beyond grey, or beige. Please.

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