The Colors of Sies Marjan documents the journey of Maharam collaborator Sander Lak’s esteemed fashion brand, celebrated for its refined ease and expressive palette. As befits a label whose designs were characterized by an emphatic use of color, the book is organized chromatically, punctuated with reflections from friends and collaborators. Here Lak speaks with architect, architectural theorist, and urbanist Rem Koolhaas.
Sander Lak: Do you have any specific color memories of your childhood?
Rem Koolhaas: Gray in the first part, after the war. And then a lot more color in Indonesia. Yet the crucial color in Indonesia for me was brown: the landscape, the ground. And then there was, of course, a lot of green. Dark green tea plantations or mountains without any kind of color other than green. So, it’s a bit of a monotone, but then there are flashes of incredible color based on these varieties of batik everywhere. Blue seems to be absent too, for some reason, although there were just the most beautiful indigo colors. And then I go back to Holland, and it becomes about the colors of the modern ’60s. Antonioni, Fellini, and a lot of American sugar-coated popular culture colors, like pastels but in a more authentic spectrum of materials.
SL: When does color come into play in the process of your work?
RK: Well, I have been practicing architecture since the ’80s and our work was being influenced by modernism and it took us about ten years to disconnect from that. Modernism has a particular color palette and uses color in a kind of important way. So, this was the time I was choosing to make this wall red, with that column in blue or green. We also used black and gold in crucial ways, always painted. This was also because we did not have a lot of money to actually invest in materials and paint was the only thing available to us to give some “effects.”
Then, in the ’90s, I became more independent of modernism and also lost some interest in paint because we were starting to use real materials. So then it became more important to think about what the effect is of combining authentic materials in a particular building, relying in the first place on the aesthetic of the materials instead of color. Although we did use green and purple as simulations of nature in the Central Library in Seattle. Fondazione Prada in Milan is a good example of trying to not work with explicit color but instead showing the color through materials. So the gold comes from real gold leaf, the white is white concrete, and the gray is a particular kind of aluminum. We also used a lot of the actual colors of the primers on materials. I was kind of fascinated by how beautiful the primer was. Many times we tried to use the orange shade of primer or the stone red of primer. So my color use shifted to materials.
Even though my use of explicit colors has been reduced, the overall spectrum remains, of course, extremely important to assert itself in a certain mood or quality or level of security.
SL: In your work, do you have some examples of specific human behaviors caused by a color in a space or a room?
RK: I have seen it in terms of neon lights, or electronic lights, where your immersive environment is entirely defined by artificial colors. Color, of course, is deeply connected to light. What is also happening in the last twenty years or so is that the digital colors have become more intense and, in parallel, the colors of our actual environment are becoming more neutral. The fact that digital color and any kind of digital rendering is presented on a screen means that you look at those colors, whatever they are—even black, white and grays—with light behind them. That in itself gives an added intensity or attraction. Reality is by definition flat in comparison to the experience of seeing colors on a screen. There is an almost disappointing dimension to reality.
SL: Do you notice color as much in the real world as you do when you are working on a project?
RK: Yes, if not more! I’m incredibly invested in the real world. It really never ends in terms of interrogating it and trying to understand it and capturing new things—even seemingly familiar things.
From The Colors of Sies Marjan, forthcoming from Rizzoli.