Color and Reflectivity in Interior Spaces

Presented by: Esther Hagenlocher, Landry Smith

This research paper focuses on the connection between daylight, color, and color reflectivity in understanding how to optimize reflectance and improve lighting efficiency and visual comfort. Buildings consume 70% of all U.S. electrical energy production, most of it for electrical light. Therefore daylighting is an important strategy to save energy and ultimately reduce greenhouse gases and mitigate global warming and its effects. Reflectivity is also important architecturally in the experience of a space, although rooms are not typically design with highly reflective colors and surfaces. There are several reasons that designers tend to use interior surfaces of low reflectivity. First, colors are perceived to be richer in cultural value such as deep red velvets and dark blues (i.e. colors typically assigned to royalty). Dark wood finishes with low reflectivity like mahogany are perceived to be more desirable; dark floor coverings in interior spaces that have lower reflectivity are also seen as easier to keep clean. The aesthetic values assigned to deep colors in short conflicts with high reflectivity – a far more effective strategy for daylighting. Hypothesis: The average reflectivity of an interior space can be increased without changing people’s perceptions of the color in the space. This can be tested empirically. Three experiments were designed to determine whether interior designers could achieve the perception of deep colors while also providing reflectivity. In Experiment 1, out of twenty-five colors, each group on average correctly evaluated only three colors. All the other colors were perceived to have a higher LRV (Light Reflectance Value) than they actually had. Most colors in the range of 40%-50% were perceived as having a 20% higher reflectivity than was actually the case. This shows that designers tend to overestimate the reflectivity of colors. Colors in the LRV ranges of 0%-9% and 90%-99% were usually correctly perceived. Colors in these ranges were discovered to be much easier for users to evaluate. In Experiment 2, both skilled observers and layman perceived a room to be the most colorful room when it was in the reflectivity range of 30%. In Experiment 3, seven boxes with different shades of red were presented, ranging between 15% and 80% LRV. Despite the actual performance of the LRV, the box with the highly reflective pinkish-red was perceived by all the observers to be the most colorful chroma, contradicting the assumption that colors with the lowest reflectivity values are the most colorful. The eye is capable of making separate judgments about color reflectivity. Daylighting is well documented, as well as the architectural role of reflectivity. However, the connection between daylight and reflectivity lacks thorough study. Although these are preliminary experiments and results, the implications were felt to be of sufficient interest to continue the work. Multiple personal tests are being conducted, including a significant number of studies with human subjects. These results will be evaluated to find a rule for the perception of color, which will lead to design applications for the use of color in interior spaces. These experiments will aid in the designing of color schemes for building interiors. It is of value for the designer to know with a greater degree of skill the colorfulness and the reflectivity of the space and to be able to anticipate both environmental and aesthetic effects.


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