Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Polychromy
POLLY krome ee


The use of many colors in decoration, especially in architecture and sculpture.

Monochrome: opposite of polychrome

Structural/constructional polychromy: Where the color is not applied after construction, but is provided by the brick, stones, or tiles used in the building. It was a feature of the mature Gothic Revival.

Greek architecture: An early example of polychrome decoration was found in the Parthenon atop the Acropolis of Athens. By the time European antiquarianism took off in the 18th century, however, the paint that had been on classical buildings had completely weathered off.

Greek architecture: : "This practice [polychromy] dates from the highest antiquity, and reached its greatest artistic perfection in Greece, where it was consistently applied to all sculpture and architecture. In archaic examples the coloring was the most complete and strong, and in the case of sculpture was to a great extent conventional—men's flesh, for instance, being colored deep-brown or red, and women's white or yellowish. In the architecture of the best time, while surfaces of considerable extent were still brilliantly colored, as in red or blue, the chief part of many features, as of columns, was left in the natural color of the marble, or perhaps merely slightly tinted, and discreetly set off with meanders or other ornaments in gilding or strong color." - American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (online June 2013)

High Victorian Gothic architecture: Striped polychromatic brickwork was popularized by G.E. Street in his Brick and Marble from Northern Italy and by John Ruskin in The Stones of Venice.  Architectural polychromy was a prominent feature of British architecture between 1840 and 1870.

Polychrome brickwork is a style of architectural brickwork which emerged in the 1860s and used bricks of different colors (typically brown, cream and red) in patterned combination to highlight architectural features. It was often used to replicate the effect of quoining and to decorate around windows. Early examples featured banding, with later examples exhibiting complex diagonal, criss-cross, and step patterns.

Terra cotta, United States: Glazed architectural terra-cotta is a ceramic masonry building material popular in the United States from the late 19th century until the 1930s, and still one of the most common building materials found in U.S. urban environments. It is the glazed version of architectural terra-cotta; the material in both its glazed and unglazed versions is sturdy and relatively inexpensive, and can be molded into richly ornamented detail. Glazed terra-cotta played a significant role in architectural styles such as the Chicago School and Beaux-Arts architecture.   

Stone polychromy, United States: H. H. Richardson's 1877 Trinity Church in Boston popularized the use of stone polychromy in the US.

Twentieth century:  In the twentieth century there were notable periods of polychromy in architecture, from the expressions of Art Nouveau throughout Europe, to the international flourishing of Art Deco or Art Moderne, to the development of postmodernism in the latter decades of the century.

Paint Polychromy

Polychrome building facades ... rose in popularity as a way of highlighting certain trim features in Victorian and Queen Anne architecture in the United States. The rise of the modern paint industry following the civil war also helped to fuel the (sometimes extravagant) use of multiple colors.

The polychrome facade style faded with the rise of the 20th century's revival movements, which stressed classical colors applied in restrained fashion and, more importantly, with the birth of modernism, which advocated clean, unornamented facades rendered in white stucco or paint.

Polychromy reappeared with the flourishing of the preservation movement ... in San Francisco, California in the 1970s to describe its abundant late-nineteenth-century houses. These earned the endearment 'Painted Ladies'...


Examples from Buffalo:
Examples outside of Buffalo:


Photos and their arrangement 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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