Shane Ferro
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OBJECT LESSONS: Architecture & Design News

Petition to Paint Mural on Philadelphia’s PSFS Building Horrifies Architecture Fans

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From the candy-striped Rio favelas imagined by Haas & Hahn to the cherished aerosol art displays of Sydney, artists, policymakers, and community members seem to congregate happily and snugly in the venn diagram overlap that is the universal appreciation for the painted mural. But sometimes, a painted mural is just not the way to enliven a particularly lifeless inanimate object (I’m talking about architecture, here). This is especially true when the subject getting a fresh coat of juvenescence is a famous and staunchly preserved historic skyscraper. A campaign launched yesterday on Philadelphia street art site Streets Dept petitioning for a city-sanctioned mural on the facade of the PSFS Building had architecture fans doing Home Alone-style, double-cheek face slaps at the idea (or so I imagine, inferring only from the tweets). To be fair, the initiative seems to stem form an ingenuous place: With incredible levity, the site dismisses “all the concerns about [the PSFS Building] being a historical building (even though the back is already painted black, so I can’t really imagine what damage blue, or purple, or pink paint could do” and gushes with the kind of We-Are-The-99% attitude that pervades much of the discourse about street art. One Streets Dept commenter, named Thornhill, was quick to sort a few things out with a well-informed response:

“With all due respect, this is a horrible idea. Let me enumerate:

1) The PSFS building is one of the most famous skyscrapers in the nation, if not world. Great care has been put in to preserve its appearance, such as the keeping the PSFS sign on the top.

2) Philadelphia already has what’s probably the most active mural arts program in the world: The Mural Arts Program (MAP). With 3,000 some murals, I don’t think we’re lacking in our expression for the arts. Further, having murals spread out all over the city is a lot more impactful than just having one large one downtown.

3) You’re never going to come up with a design everyone likes, and it will end up becoming a long standing point of controversy among Philadelphians. Just look at how controversial some of MAP’s murals have been over the years.

4) Whatever the design is, everyone is going to want it to be kept in good shape — nobody wants to look at a decaying mural. MAP performs maintenance to all of its murals from times to time, and some of the oldest ones just end up getting painted over because it’s easier to do something new rather than repeated touchups. Keeping a 36-story tall mural looking new is going to be extremely expensive.”

Though less than 10 minutes after the articulate response, another commenter insisted on suggesting Philadelphia artist NoseGo for the job.

- Kelly Chan

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