Emmanuelle Moureaux: Making colour the focus of design


French architect and designer Emmanuelle Moureaux moved to Japan in 1996 after visiting Tokyo whilst studying architecture. Greatly inspired by the colours there, this experience inspired the central concept behind all of her work: ‘shikiri’, which means “dividing and creating space through colours” (MOUREAUX E, n.d). At first glance, Moureaux only seems to consider the element of colour when designing, however the other design elements are used strategically to allow the colours to take centre stage; space and form are created by colour, light and texture highlight the colours, and furniture and objects are minimal with colour as the only ornament.



Inspired by traditional Japanese screens, Moureaux influences space with colours. She “use[s] colours as three-dimensional elements […] to create spaces” (MOUREAUX E, n.d). At the Tiara salon, the coloured blocks in the room dividers help them to become solid masses which separate one space from another. Despite the space being divided, it does not feel small; an impression of length is created by the horizontal lines of the table and screens, which draw the eye along to the tree, a contrasting natural element.



However, colour cannot exist without a 3D element. The space would still be divided if the colour was removed. Kaleidoscope embodies the essence of shikiri as without colour the space would not be visibly separated.


Moureaux uses the concept of shikiri “to divide space using colors” (MOUREAUX E n.d).



To avoid colours being dominated by visually demanding natural form, Moureaux designs using geometric form. Inspiration from nature is reduced to geometric shapes, like the Ropponmatsu creche tree motif.


In each design, Moureaux uses one geometric shape, defined by bright colours, that forms a theme for the project. In this window installation for Issey Miyake’s Rainbow Moire, 2D coloured paper is layered to create 3D pyramidal forms, which echoes the shapes found in the bags displayed.


Because of such dominant geometric form, there is a friction created with nature around her designs which “allows the character of each to exist is a strong and independent manner” (BROOKER G[1], STONE S[2], 2004). The natural form of the trees stands out very clearly against the geometric coloured cubes at the Nakaaoki Sugamo Shinkin bank.


In Moureaux’s designs, form has a geometric theme, to which attention is drawn by her signature colours.



Light does not initially seem to play a central role in Moureaux’s designs as it only serves to bring attention to colours or to make them more dynamic. But as light influences the way we perceive colour, it is considered carefully. As sunlight moves across the front of the Nakaaoki Branch of Sugamo Shinkin Bank, the shadows move, and the colours of the façade become animated.


In the majority of Moureaux’s interiors, ambient light comes from recessed downlights to create an even light for viewing colours with no dramatic shadows. In CORAZYs shop, accent lights shine down each coloured aisle end to draw attention to these features.


Light is one of the most important elements with multiple uses, but Moureaux only uses light to aid in the perception of colour, meaning that the layers of colour are not interrupted by layers of lighting fixtures. Lighting is not a feature for Moureaux, instead it is used to make colour, the central element, more dynamic.



In both the furniture chosen for interiors and her own furniture design, Moureaux favours clean lines and geometric shapes. Attention is drawn to certain parts of the furniture using bright colours. When choosing furniture, she often takes inspiration from nature, like this Shinjuen nursing home where the chairs represent grass (MOUREAUX E, n.d).


This natural inspiration continues in Moureaux’s own furniture design; Mille Feuille tables are inspired by scattered sheets settling randomly (MOUREAUX E, n.d), and Stick Chair’s concept is ‘unbalanced balance’ (MOUREAUX E, n.d).

However, the final designs do not seem natural; the green nursing home chairs are harsher than green grass, and the colours used in Mille Feuille and Stick Chair would rarely be seen together in nature. When choosing and designing furniture, Moureaux is inspired by nature, however the use of colour creates an unnatural contrast.



In Moureaux’s designs texture is minimal and uniform. As shown here at the Ecole Sympa where the texture is hard, glossy, quiet and pared back.


The focus of her design is for “people to breathe and immerse in […] colours, to see colours, touch colours, and feel colours with all their senses” (E MOUREAUX, 2019). Therefore “Moureaux hides texture as she wants people to focus on the colour” (SZITA J[3] 2018) and let it take on the role of texture by bringing a certain warmth and interest. The coloured berries in the Bluberi restaurant inspire softness in an otherwise harsh setting.


Moureaux’s style better suits commercial projects because the lack of texture makes them less homely and therefore not ideal for typical homes. Rich texture is not a focus for Moureaux as it would detract from the intense impact of the colours.



Another example of how Moureaux uses the design elements to avoid drawing any attention away from the colours, is how she uses minimal objects in her interiors creating a clean-lined aesthetic, like in the Magic Forest Clinic below.


Moureaux likes to explore the same concept on different scales (FITZGERALD M[4], 2015) so the objects that she designs are miniature versions of the spaces she creates. For example, the Acrylic x Komono series box is a shape divided by colourful screens.


The colour used in the objects that Moureaux designs makes an interesting feature out of an otherwise banal object. In her interiors, objects distract from colour, but when designing objects Moureaux can explore shikiri on a smaller scale.



Moureaux uses all the design elements for one purpose: to increase the impact of colour. She uses colour to create space using shikiri. Colour draws attention to the geometric theme, light is used carefully to highlight colour and furniture uses nature as inspiration for colours. Colour is used to highlight defining characteristics of furniture design. Texture is minimal in order to allow colour to be viewed unobtrusively. Objects are used sparingly in interiors, and objects that Moureaux designs allow her to develop shikiri on a different scale. Although colour is the main focus of each of Moureaux’s designs, without the careful use of the other elements of design it could not reach its full potential.






[1] Graham Brooker is the head of interior design at the Royal College of Art

[2] Sally Stone is a program leader for the architecture program at Manchester School of Architecture

[3] Jane Szita is a journalist covering topics such as design, architecture and art, business, travel and lifestyle trends

[4] Miranda Fitzgerald is web editor for OnOffice, a magazine for architecture and design in office spaces

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