BUILD Blog


Graffiti and Cities
June 6, 2008, 12:00 am
Filed under: Design, Urban Architecture


[Photo by Joe Schell]

If the graffiti in Seattle were to be graded it would acquire something in the realm of “needs improvement”. Its not an F but it’s substantially shy of a B-. While it appears that graffiti artists here have the time, courage and paint supplies, the level of craftsmanship is at an all time low. Walking around Seattle lately we’re entirely unimpressed with the quality of graffiti, depressed actually. Just when we thought we were becoming a big city, the urban gauge of graffiti reminds us that we’re still provincial and insulated. Graffiti is a precarious but critical form of urban expression and rebellion. It is a necessary component of the urban grit and if we’re ever going to become a big city the graffiti here needs to step it up. Perhaps the graffiti artists need to do a bit of R&D; or maybe a study abroad program should be implemented. There’s no lack of resources out there to help resuscitate the craft and quality of graffiti, here are just a few:

Recommended books:
The Birth of Graffiti by Jon Naar
This was one of the first texts to really document the phenomena of graffiti – even our college profs were touting this one around the studio.

Graffiti World: Street Art from Five Continents by Nicholas Ganz

Recommended study tours:
Five Points neighborhood of Long Island City in New York
Get to Grand Central Station and take the Queens-bound #7 train, park yourself on the left side of the car and keep your eyes open.

The Alleys of Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles

Digital Journals:
Even tags can be well crafted, this site does a clean job with tag archives from nine cities (including Seattle)

This website is a gorgeous display of graffiti and the moving image – the movie clip is worth a few minutes of your time.

In doing our research on graffiti it seems that another important factor in the quality of graffiti is establishing legal zones for such artistry. These zones are typically urban pockets that could use a bit of life, are easily visible and the locations don’t harm businesses or homes. We’ve come up with three candidates for legal graffiti zones here in Seattle.
1. The Alaskan Way Viaduct south of Yesler
2. The columns and walls underneath I-5 between Mercer and Thomas (across from Cafe Venus, Mars Bar and REI).
3. The underside of I-5 up north at the Ravenna boulevard underpass.

Name your candidates…

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

FITTI is tha shit. Lots of good stuff in d-town St. Louis, near the Arch. Trains in NORTHern Indiana is all the art we get to see.

Comment by JET

[…] [Photo by BUILD LLC] Recently, the City of Seattle authorized the painting of repetitive geometrical patterns to the underside of some of the more oppressive I-5 underpasses.  We got our own up here in Ravenna, and we have to admit that it makes the pedestrian experience much more pleasant.  Coincidence that we named this location as one of the top candidates to turn into a legal graffiti park in an earlier post? […]

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