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Thesis in the Spotlight: Nicole Saville

Publication date

November 29, 2017 3:30 PM


Jake Ward

Nicole Saville is a fifth year student in the Tulane School of Architecture.

Architecture student Nicole Saville is approaching her Honors Thesis as an opportunity to expand her required fifth year project into an interdisciplinary undertaking.  Using insights of “color theory” from painting and the sciences, she is challenging the dominance of what she terms “chromophobia” in her field.

The first part of Nicole’s project identifies the problem, as she sees it, in Architecture today: a lack of well-integrated color.  Even where color is used, she says, it is an “afterthought,” a “secondary layer.”  It is seen as subjective, detracting from the seriousness of design.

Nicole traces these contemporary attitudes back through a number of historical trends.  One of these is the European return to Greek and Roman architectural forms, inspired by ancient ruins.  These ruins, as they appear to us now, are without color—“pure”—and this appearance has influenced the minimalist approach to color in much of western architecture since.  More recent scientific breakthroughs have revealed that these white columns and statues were in fact originally painted extremely vivid colors.  However, the field has remained steadfast.  As Nicole puts it, color has remained “erased from this narrative in architecture.”

In order to counter the lack of serious study of color in her own field, Nicole is exploring examinations of the topic in other fields.  In particular, she has turned to “color theory,” a centuries-old area of study in the fine arts.  Insights from color theory, as well as from the science of color, have helped her demonstrate that color has a value far beyond that typically afforded to it in architecture.

One central insight for Nicole’s project is the concept of the “duality of color.”  That is, though color is perceived by the mind, and is thus in some way subjective (as the dominant narrative in her field asserts), it is also objective—it exists outside the mind of the viewer as well.  The duality of color is part of its power—and it is this power that architecture must aim to better exploit.

As a fifth-year student in architecture, Nicole is required to do a final project to complete her degree.  However, she chose to extend this project into an Honors Thesis, so that she could explore the topic of color in more depth with an interdisciplinary approach.  She is developing her more theoretical analysis of color theory alongside her practical component, which has begun with case studies of existing buildings, and will culminate with Nicole creating her own design from scratch.  This design will integrate the findings of her analysis.

Nicole has always been interested in painting and art, but it is only recently that she realized the value she could take from these areas for her own field of study.  In the spring, she took a class on architectural painting with Tiffany Lin, Associate Professor of Architecture, who is now her second reader.  The course was Nicole’s first exposure to color in architecture, and made her think that the topic could—and should—be explored much more.  Thus, she began reading about color in architecture and in other fields, and decided over the summer that she wanted to write an Honors Thesis on the topic.  She asked Cordula Roser Gray, Professor of Practice in Architecture, to be her first reader, and Anthony Baab, Professor of Practice in Painting, completes her committee as third reader.

Nicole’s advice to aspiring thesis writers is simple: find a topic you’re really passionate about.  This will help a writer to persevere through the inevitable difficulties that punctuate a year-long thesis project.  Despite any issues that have come up, Nicole is excited to delve into other fields in order to add something to her own.  Her interdisciplinary Honors Thesis is enriching her studies and her field.