German architect Jürgen Mayer H has turned his self-proclaimed "obsession" with beige into a research project exploring the colour's various uses and associations, which he is presenting at this year's Chicago Architecture Biennial.
The founder of Berlin studio J Mayer H embarked on a quest to understand beige's ubiquity in today's built environment, and beyond. He titled the project Cosmic Latte – the name that astronomers from Johns Hopkins University gave to the average colour of the universe.
The inquisition began when Mayer H found out about a gated community in Phoenix, Arizona, in the mid-90s that restricted residents' choice of house colour.
"I heard a story that if you buy a house there, you could only paint it in a very limited palette of beige, otherwise it would threaten the value of a neighbours' house," Mayer H told Dezeen.
This, coupled with the announcement that the universe's collective light averages to the colour of a milky coffee, sparked the architect to start collating examples from his surroundings. It also formed the basis of a design research studio titled Beige that Mayer H taught with architect Marc Kushner at Columbia University.
"I thought there was some power to that beige-ness and began looking out to what we see in our culture, in our society right now," he said. "I thought there must be something that's to be discovered."
Mayer H was later joined by architectural historian Philip Ursprung, chair for the history of art and architecture at ETH Zurich. The duo asked architecture students at ETH Zurich and Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design to photograph beige buildings spotted in their neighbourhoods or on their travels.
They compiled these with images of explosions in conflict zones in the Middle East, where some of the world's oldest monuments have been destroyed by ISIS. "We confront this contemporary production of architecture with the destruction of the beginning of our civilisation," said Mayer H. "All these beige dust clouds of explosions of temples."
"Even if you think it is a nice neighbourhoodly colour, it speaks for our understanding that beige is timeless, it creates value, there is a certain earnestness to it," added Ursprung. "It has all these essences of a colour that is not chosen, it's already there, it's given somehow."
For the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, which opened earlier this month, the pair has pinned a sampling of their images onto boards so they can be moved around – enabling copies of the accompanying manifesto are printed on beige paper and stacked in the centre, for visitors to take away.
When asked what his favourite beige building is, Mayer H jokingly pointed out his Metrapol Parasol structure in Seville.
"We painted it beige because there are a lot of sand winds coming from Africa, so we didn't want it to look dusty right away," he said.
Also as part of the ongoing Cosmic Latte project, the duo is planning a beige paintball fight for next year.
"I think we're starting to find aspects to understand why it's so powerful," said Mayer H. "That's the question we want to raise with this project."
Read the full manifesto below:
Photography is by Bruce Damonte.