Encyclopedia of Color Science and Technology

2016 Edition
| Editors: Ming Ronnier Luo

Color Pollution

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-8071-7_249



Color pollution consists of an inappropriate color arrangement which causes or increases disorder in the perception of the Visual Field within an urban or natural environment. It is an important aspect of visual pollution.


Color Pollution as a Component of Visual Pollution

In the context of environmental design visual pollution refers to all non-architectural elements which spoil, in an invasive and simultaneous way, the perception of outdoor spaces. These features range from plastic bags trapped between tree branches to publicity panels, street signs, posts and wires [1]. Besides the unaesthetic consequences the unnecessary exposure of these elements may bring, visual pollution leads to the overstimulation of the senses, increasing the load of information to be processed by viewers, drivers and pedestrians.

Light and color are important aspects of visual pollution. The first one generates luminous pollution or  Light Pollution due to artificial lighting and the second one, color pollution by the introduction of cultured elements. Color pollution may originate in visual pollution, when it is the consequence of an inconveniently positioned feature which reinforces its presence by color. Otherwise it may be a color that is incoherent within the composition and causes disorder. The disharmonious result may be produced by one or more color dimensions (hue, saturation and lightness) [2]. Achromatics are necessary for creating transition spaces between color information, though black, white and gray may also produce an effect of color pollution by lack of tone and contrast in luminosity.

Negative Impact of Color in the Environment

Color affects the perception of objects and compositions within a setting. It serves to codify elements and establish visual hierarchies. If used randomly, disregarding its power, color may easily draw attention to misleading data, distracting the viewer from relevant information for the interpretation of a scene [3]. When inappropriate colors are used in minor elements such as urban furniture, advertising panels or building elements, color, far from being a useful signal, ends up invading the environment with an ambiguous and arbitrary presence.

Color as Intended by Nature and Adaptation to Color Coding

Colors in nature convey physical and chemical characteristics. They also give information on material processes and ethereal substances. In the animal kingdom color has a biological role, as an aid to survival [4]. In natural conditions human beings would respond to colors by instinct, using them as intended by nature: for alerting and announcing danger, for recognizing food and bodily functions and for perceiving space and distance.

The man-made environment is full of visual information and signals, many of which are based on color. Universal coding by color distinguishes hot from cold, gas from water, forbidden from allowed and so forth. Color is present in domestic and work activities. When shopping, colors in packaging and logos inform about names and brands, colored tags serve to mark sales from regular prices, while bright and fluorescent colors indicate special deals.

When color is used inadequately, the information it conveys becomes irrelevant and negative for the user, causing confusion and contributing to visual pollution. Man possesses a biological memory that keeps him aware of color signals, but using this faculty amidst color excess and randomness may prove a waste of energy, causing fatigue and stress.

Color Pollution in Cities

Color pollution exists in the urban environment, predominantly in cities and villages. Commercial and mixed-use areas are good examples of competition for capturing attention. In isolation, color communication is effective. The use of written signs and subtle colors may work too, but among competing signs, these no longer accomplish their intended function, promoting other formulas are to be put into practice: brighter colors, contrasting backgrounds, larger letter types, images, lighting and many others [5]. The arrangement of the signs may easily become visual pollution, while the excessive and inappropriate use of color contributes to a chaotic environment.

The effects of color pollution are negative. Bright and saturated colors tend to spread in the scene, as others are induced to use the same strategy. In cities color tends to go out of control in commercial panels. Traffic and safety signs [2] diminish their effectiveness when there are objects with similar colors around. Associations between certain colors and objects, which have not been planned carefully, tend to become ingrained in a cityscape, i.e. urban furniture, bridges and signals. From that base, the rest is decided or added on.

Architectural elements may cause color and visual pollution within a façade by producing imbalance in the composition. When building exteriors invade the visual field with bright and saturated colors, far from enhancing architecture, these threat the aesthetic aspect of the environment.

Color Pollution in Natural Settings

Natural settings are highly susceptible to visual and color pollution. This occurs when man-made elements are introduced in a landscape, with no regard to material quality and color, resulting alien and obtrusive. It is common to find posts, cables, advertising and constructions invading the Visual Field, interrupting the continuity of mountain ranges, seascapes, agricultural fields and woods. The position, size and frequency of these elements are relevant. Additionally their impact may be emphasized or diminished by materials and colors. For instance, a black plastic water tank may be very disruptive when placed against a mountain backdrop. Its visual impact would be attenuated if it were beige, echoing the color of the background.

Consequences of Color Pollution

As occurs with noise and visual contamination, color pollution may be aggressive, causing fatigue and stress. Slow reactions and traffic accidents may be caused by excess of information and distracting colored elements. As color pollution affects the aesthetic aspect of a place, users may find it hard to enjoy and develop a sense of belonging in visually disrupted settings.

Though the perception of color in animal species differs from that of humans, pollution by color may diminish the chances of wildlife establishment near human conglomerates. In prey birds and day birds, which have an acute and sophisticated sense of vision, color plays specific functions in mating and feeding [2, 6]. The presence of artificially colored elements in their habitat may affect their behavior by alerting and confusing them.

Causes of Color Pollution

If color does not correspond to function nor to survival or aesthetics, who is to blame for its randomness? Lack of regulation and guidelines for the use of color allow the invasion of contaminating colored elements in the environment. This is a major deficiency of cities and natural settings. The causes of color pollution also rely on the consumer society, the commercial offer of paint and cladding materials, and visual marketing strategies.

Man, with his ability to synthesize and create from the materials which are granted to him, uses color to express, symbolize and communicate ideas. The evolution of coloring mediums, tools and technologies has resulted in an overwhelming variety. By contrast, the rules for the application of these advancements are scarce.

Municipalities rent strategic spaces to corporations for publicity. Owners will rent the roofs of their houses to advertising companies, if they are not prevented to do so. To the detriment of the setting a gigantic beer can or a credit card could become a focal point. The colors used in these advertisements are centered in the product, not in the environment, and very often result in color pollution.

It appears as common practice in many parts of the world that, at the time of political elections, propaganda invades city and countryside. Usually the combination of two primary colors of medium to high saturation and black is used over a white background, producing a contrasting figure-ground relationship which is legible from a distance [5]. Recurring examples of visual and color pollution of this sort remain on walls and along roadsides long after the campaigns are over.

It is for sure that the cultivated and sensitive individual values unspoiled scenery more than authorities and inhabitants of rural towns, where the beauty of natural sights seems to be taken for granted.

Solutions for Color Pollution

Authorities have in their hands the possibility to control the environmental impact caused by political propaganda and commercial advertising through regulations and sanctions.

Decisions for preserving and improving environmental colors are common ground of authority and designer. It is necessary to assess the environment and develop regulations according to its unique qualities, visual advantages and important buildings. These should be taken as standpoints for design and planning. The design of features to go in a landscape or cityscape should be thoughtful and consider the particular characteristics of the setting, including color. Color is a powerful tool but is just one of many in a composition. Parameters regarding order, geometry, repetition, size, shape and material should be part of the regulation criteria.

Reducing the variety and amount of elements in the visual field is crucial. Color may be protecting or decorating some element, which is obtrusive per se. The addition of features, such as signals and urban equipment, requires planning and restrictions in the color aspect too. In particular cases, the introduction of greenery may help to cover up the obtrusive elements, to create structure and order in the visual field or to balance a composition.

The adjustment of color dimensions (hue, saturation and lightness) may be effective for resolving certain visual conflicts. Through the use of adequate colors, annoying features could be neutralized or kept inconspicuous. In this way color would serve the purpose of contributing to visual order.



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Architecture, Landscape and Color DesignArquitectura Paisajismo ColorLimaPeru