Berlin Blue

Berlin Blue is the foundational blue, according to Werner. As it is mostly made up of blue and is on the more-cool purple end of the color scale. In the subtraction process, it is one-third of the color red with blue removed, and about halfway consists of green with blue. In the same four color process, the blue that is subtracted and the red and yellow that remains creates an ash that cools off the base color of blue, and situates it directly between the point at which the base could become green or purple. It is a pure blue.

Unlike Crimson Red—the color of hell—Berlin Blue is, for me, the color of prayer. Since I can’t speculate about what Heaven might be—or if it even is for everyone out there—this description should suffice for now.  

Berlin Blue composes the base of every other recorded color of blue, that Werner named in his Nomenclature. It also creates the secondary set of blues that Werner named as foundational, which include Greenish Blue (Sky Blue) and Greyish Blue (Cobalt Glass).

It is interesting to note that, in nature, the blues often appear on the feathers of birds or in copper ore, from the earth. Berlin Blue is basically a lighter, cooler Prussian Blue, which has more black and a bit of a mid-blue, which is indigo, folded together. Indigo and Prussian Blues are both found in Blue Copper Ore, Prussian also in cyanide. But Berlin Blue is the color of an untreated Sapphire.

It is the sky.

Also interesting, as I read the Werner’s Nomenclature of Colors, is the number of colors from this book that informed the paint colors created by Farrow and Ball. My favorite type of painting to attempt is trompe l’oeil, which I absolutely cannot accomplish for sh*t. However, Farrow and Ball has the most interesting colors to try to pull this off. Once, in an apartment, I had a terrible-looking, rickety fire escape that was situated in one of those metal boxes that you throw out of the window, I guess, if you ever need to use the fire escape. I painted it to disappear into the wall with a little grey and a bit of pink. But this project has nothing to do with the matter at hand—the blue that helps me think.

If you look at the interiors of the institutions built in the 1940s, and those that have not been updated since (many it seems), it would be closest to a blue called Verditer. The base of this blue is Berlin Blue with the addition of a bright but dark yellow-ish green—Verdigris—and now I am talking about color addition, which just confused me a bit and I am sorry if it confused anyone else. This is the color people are talking about when they say “Institutional Green.”

Verditer was used in hospitals and institutions because it was supposed to calm those inside. There were rooms entirely of tile in this color—at least in the case of a solitary confinement room in the institution I visited—where people would be bathed and isolated all in the same place. At least that was the idea when this inpatient wing was constructed.

The solitary confinement room I saw was no longer used to bathe human beings, but it was still used for the isolation end of the equation. There was no bathroom, either. When I asked where these confined people bathed, I was told that those who go into those rooms don’t get bathed anymore. That the water was shut off in the early 2000s. Did other people not in confinement have the opportunity to take showers? They did, but with cold water so they didn’t take too long.

But this color, Verditer, is seen in nature only in an ore from the earth but doesn’t appear in animals or plants. It is a color that, to me, seems unnatural because ore has to be refined, I think, and turned into something else in order to be used, unlike feathers or petals, or sapphires, which are useful in themselves.

Berlin Blue.

It is my personal opinion that natural colors are far more calming and help promote healing better than those that don’t appear in nature as much. Perhaps institutions should have been designed with Berlin Blue tile instead of Verditer—certainly one color that is more natural doesn’t increase cost or change the concept of the space. And this is another topic that is something that depresses me.

In no way related to the institution I saw, I was interviewing an architect for a story I was working on about a residential development. We spoke about the ways in which color can evoke a response when it’s used in a specific space that serves a specific purpose—like blue in a glass room that contains a pool.

It is strange that interior designers who did commercial institutions couldn’t or wouldn’t put natural colors in institutional settings that, in some ways, remind me of an indoor pool. At least conceptually. What depresses me is how it seems assumed that people who find themselves in circumstances they cannot control don’t need beauty.

When I was there, I asked about the colors and why they were unnatural. I was told that “these people” have to “deal with” what they are “fortunate enough” to get. In that institution, there were no windows and nobody was ever taken outside to exercise or see nature—and this institution was in a beautiful, natural, and private setting, surrounded by a high, wrought iron fence.

While I was there, I wondered, who are the people who decide what measure of fortune becomes “enough” for some and not enough for others? What color tile is ugly “enough” so that ‘these people’ who are ‘fortunate enough’ don’t remember what it’s like to feel happy?

I think this is why so many beautiful things in the world get completely obliterated, totally destroyed, by a sort-of resentment that someone can have something beautiful for free when someone else doesn’t think they should. It’s something I think about a lot since I visited that indescribably awful place.

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