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In 1933, the first year of the fair, large expanses of bold bright colors covered the entire Century of Progress Exposition in what was probably the first attempt at using color as an architectural medium on a large scale. There were three reasons for this broad use of color: to coordinate the varied building types, to give interest to plain building materials, and to create a gay atmosphere. Color was an integral part of the architectural scheme, not just a decorative trimming. Color was treated as a medium having its own laws of balance and power, just as form and proportion have theirs. The color palette was based on the main color accents, which themselves were based on the characters of the buildings.


The designs of the buildings included recesses in which concealed lighting could be placed. Exposed lights were not permitted. Color not only unified the structures but also served as a backdrop for lighting effects, both exterior and interior. Inside the buildings, colors on plain walls were used expressively in relation to the objects on exhibit.

At night the main lighting effect was that of large expanses of color resulting from bathing the buildings in static white or colored light. Unusual effects were created by projecting colored light on colored surfaces. Previously this type of combination was used almost exclusively on the stage, while colored light was used to light white or neutral colored buildings.


The most spectacular light effect came from a color scintillator composed of twenty-four and thirty-six inch arc searchlights arranged in two banks of twelve each. Scintillator operators changed color filters and the positions of the searchlight beams according to a prearranged schedule to create a shifting multicolored panorama. The interaction of the scintillator with steam clouds, smoke clouds, and fireworks produced even more striking displays. The scintillator was located on the shore of Lake Michigan just south of the Travel and Transport Building at the southern extremity of the grounds and threw colored beams similar to an aurora borealis over the city and out into the lake. Another spectacular night effect was a huge white fan of crossing incandescent searchlight beams thrown from the roof of the Electrical Building.