How people think differently about the same color

For as long as I can remember my average weekday starts just like pretty much every other Dutch person’s: by nearly oversleeping, quickly taking a shower, brushing my teeth, skipping breakfast and getting on my bicycle to ride to school or work. It just so happens that in my case both are in this magically weird place called ‘the faculty of Architecture’ (at Delft University). For those of you who don’t know, it’s basically an arena where thousands of people every day try to come up with the most insane ideas to improve buildings, and then verbally fight to the death with others to convince them why their idea might actually work. The closer we get to graduating, the more we actually start thinking about the world outside of our own hippie love cloud that is Architecture, and the more we come to the painful realization that an intellectual debate is not enough to get our wacky ideas to be accepted by the common folk. In our quest to explain why we – with all the best intentions – are planning to change the world for the better, we use words like “sustainable”, “innovative”, “efficient” and commonly characterize our latest designs with the color “green”. And while even in our own practice we hardly come up with a good definition for those words, interpretation of something like a simple color as green is vastly different in the real world. Let me tell you a story about something that happened just a few blocks away from my parents’ house (…)

Imagine your typical Dutch suburban street in a town called Tilburg: row houses on one side, social housing apartments on the other, stone paving and just a few small trees with the odd blade of grass sticking through the cracks of the pavement being the only plants in the area. The residents here generally seem to be quiet satisfied with their nice and quiet neighborhood, except for perhaps for the lack of trees. The wish from the tenants’ organization was loud and clear: “more green” is needed. The municipality – more than happy to meet these demands – gave all households a large sticker with a picture of tree leaves to put on the front door (as if it’s a perfect substitute for actual trees). The sticker has the right color and those doors don’t have to be repainted every few years. That’s green enough, right?

It’s just another awkward illustration of how different parties, each with their own social and political agenda, can have such different views about something as simple as the color green. My point? Perhaps the trickiest part of implementing sustainable ideas is not coming up with the ideas themselves, or even explaining what they are and how they work. The most difficult part is probably not even trying to solve problems without creating bigger ones elsewhere. Getting everyone on the same page is the real challenge. While as of now, we’re not even reading the same book.

~ Nick V.

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