Amanda Williams: Colour(ed) theory and the urban palette

Architect-cum-artist Amanda Williams uses her experience in colour theory to design an urban colour palette for historically black neighbourhoods in Chicago.

"Most of my work has been fuelled by a desire to merge what I call my art self and my architectural self,” Amanda Williams says. Williams is formally trained in architecture and colour theory, citing the likes of Johannes Ittens, Josef Albers and Le Corbusier as influences. But Williams, who was raised in Chicago’s predominantly black South Side, also approaches colour theory with an intimate understanding of race.

Colour(ed) Theory, Williams’ latest project, is dual discipline project that combines architectural and contemporary art practise. “It is a mesh of my concerns and interests about the South Side of Chicago, which is primarily African American,” she says. “And then my artistic side, which loves painting and colour in particular.”

Colour(ed) Theory is an urban intervention in which homes, slated for demolition on the South Side of Chicago, are painted in bright hues to activate the vacant and unused blocks they stand on and highlight their history and meaning within Chicago’s landscape.

Williams developed an urban palette of eight hues – Pink Oil, Crown Royal purple, Currency Exchange yellow, Harold’s Chicken Shack red, Newport Squares teal, Safe Passage yellow, Ultrasheen blue and Flamin’ Red Hots – collected and informed by popular African American cultural products, communal experiences, and her experiences growing up on Chicago’s Southside.

“Colour(ed) Theory is really the combination of trying to think about the social, political, and racial undertones that exist within discussions around urban environments and urban design,” says Williams. 

Amanda Williams painted an abandoned house in "Flamin' Red Hots" during the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial.