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Color, Environment & Human Response by Frank H. Mahnke (Book Review)

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Name: Color, Environment & Human Response by Frank H. Mahnke

URL: Color, Environment, & Human Response (my affiliate link)

Purpose: to explain the physiological and psychological effects of color in architectural environments


Color, Environment & Human Response is filled with seventeen chapters of detailed insight about how color really impacts occupants within architectural designs. The author, Frank H. Mahnke explains color and its various complex dimensions, from neuropsychological aspects to human emotion and beyond.

I particularly like the following excerpt from this book where Mahnke explains some fundamentals about the relationship between color design and human reaction: 

“Human reaction depends on a multitude of factors. First we must consider that in choosing appropriate surface colors much depends on the specific hue, its value, and intensity. Also where color is placed, how much of it […], for what purpose, and for what length of time should all be taken into account.

It would be erroneous to think that color design […] can or should be geared to a specific physiological effect — such as lowering the blood pressure of a person suffering from hypertension. Let me emphasize: Specific physiological effects should not be the designer’s objective.

[…] When designing with color we must always see it in context, and not apply it through generalities.”

Although this book explains relationships and uses of color in great detail, Mahnke writes in a style that is easy to understand – making a very complex topic digestible and eye-opening. This is a book that you will reference again and again, getting new insight each time you open it.

The author, Mahnke, is an architectural consultant for architectural projects and he has devoted his life to the study of color to help designers create healthier built environments.


Color, Environment, & Human Response (my affiliate link) is specifically written for professionals that design and plan architectural environments. Not only does Mahnke teach you about color basics and its more complex psychological effects, he also details the biological effects of light – fundamental to color.

Mahnke looks at color from a design perspective as he delineates color uses and occupant effects for a multitude of building types. The following is a list of just a few of the building types covered in this book where he provides detailed architectural design goals and guidelines for each:

  • offices and computer workstations
  • schools
  • healthcare facilities
  • restaurants and food display
  • industrial work environments
  • color for exteriors


I particularly love the sixteen page color image spread that shows specific examples of how color can be used in design to achieve certain outcomes. You’ll realize just how important color is for architectural design. (Additionally, I like the black and white images that complement the text to help explain the author’s point throughout the rest of the book.)

Mahnke will also teach you about how the colors you currently use in your designs affect your occupants. Plus, you’ll benefit from understanding why color in architecture works the way it does – giving you detailed and useful insight about how you can incorporate color in the future, providing both general principles and specific guidelines for a wide range of building types.


For anyone that is interested in how architectural features impact occupant experience – this book is a must read. Color is not something that should be an afterthought in the design process. It really does have a large effect on how occupants experience and behave within built environments. So please, read this book.

Here is the book link: Color, Environment, & Human Response (my affiliate link)


what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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