There is something about dying a “natural” substance, while still allowing it to retain its natural character that is fascinating. Dyed flowers, rocks, rabbit feet (even mushrooms) hold a sense of the fantastic because they become something that is not natural, but not unnatural either.
When used in the built environment, dye is usually used to help a material mimic its better. Dyed concrete has become popular in many instances to mimic more expensive stone to be used on countertops, flooring, or outdoor patios. Stains bear the names expensive woods: Ebony, Mahogany, Dark Cherry, Maple. I challenge you to find a stain titled “Pine”. Very rarely in the built environment is dye expressed in a way that showcases the un-naturalness of the material it is impregnating, with the exception being plastics or textiles.
A building that succeeds in elegantly embracing and showcasing dyed material is the Administration Building for Heochst AG (better known as Behrensbau) designed by Peter Behrens and located in Frankfurt, Germany. The brickwork of the atrium, amazing in its form alone, uses a subtle addition of dye into the brick that doesn’t overwhelm the natural coloring of the brick, while still allowing the dye to express itself. Despite the addition of color, the effect is not overwhelming and adds another layer of richness and interest into the space.
Unlike rabbits feet, the building is not garish, but still succeeds in introducing a sense of the fantastic into the building through the use of dye. I appreciate the balance between the the natural and the unnatural in the application of this material, which is a phenomenon not seen often in many building materials. Perhaps sometimes we just need to embrace a little of the inner rabbits foot.