It’s certainly interesting times for graffiti culture. The artform has never been more widely accepted, yet preserving graffiti from a heritage point of view remains a challenge. While projects such as Tour 13 in Paris are making massively significant contributions to the cause, at the same time property development and urban gentrification continue to steamroller their way through important graffiti sites – last November’s whitewashing of 5Pointz in New York to make way for condos being a prime example of money talking loudly.
When an advertising agency buys up a renowned graffiti space for its offices, you may be forgiven for thinking that the writing was on the wall for the many works that have sprung up there. Previously used as the customs houses of the Ourcq canal in the Parisian suburb of Pantin, Magasins Généraux – twin buildings comprising a cavernous 20,000m² industrial property – became vacant in 2004 and inevitably attracted the attention of the city’s street artists over the following nine years.
It was never going to stay empty for ever, but creative firm BETC knew it was taking on a challenging project in renovating the Magasins Généraux, while at the same recognising the important graffiti cultural legacy and figuring out a way of preserving it. The solution the agency arrived at was Grafﬁti Général, a 3D virtual interactive tour of the building created by digital modelling using WebGL and ThreeJS techno-wizardry.
Accessible through a regular web browser, visitors to the online site are able to check out every inch of the unreconstructed interior, and learn more about the artworks there in the words of the artists themselves just by clicking on them. The tour also offers the chance to add an artwork of your own to the walls through a virtual spraycan – handy for international enthusiasts, shy types, and those who aren’t much cop at scaling walls.
Urban land in major cities commands such a premium that redevelopment is almost an inevitability, and while it’s a shame to see graffiti meccas like Magasins Généraux go, at least through sympathetic and innovative development like this, all is not lost.