A Sure-Fire Way to Brighten Up Drab Housing Stock, No Razing Required

In Panama City, Spanish urban art collective Boa Mistura decked out a building in a colorful, collaborative graffiti project.

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While some cities are eager to raze and replace their concrete housing blocks (demolition of Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens sadly began just over a week ago), others don’t quite have the privilege of blithely erasing these enduring — though often clearly unloved — emblems of social welfare. To enhance one such building in the neighborhood of El Chorrillo in Panama City, Spanish urban art collective Boa Mistura painted the facade of the housing block to convey the message "somos luz" (translated as "we are light"), using a vibrant polychrome scheme to not only beautify the formerly drab, gray exterior but also express the value of the diverse community housed within.

Founded in 2001, Boa Mistura consists of an architect, a civil engineer, two artists, and an advertising and public relations professional. As their website explains, the name of the collective means "good mixture" in Portuguese, referring to the diversity of perspectives within the group. The recently completed Somos Luz project likewise celebrates the virtues of a diverse collective: Boa Mistura took the original color palette of the facade — derived from the colors that each inhabitant independently chose to paint his or her own unit — and used it to paint a new unified scheme with the help of the residents. Thus part of the beauty of the repainting is its preservation of the color selections that signify the eclecticism of the building’s tenants, as well as the actual participation of the tenants in the painting process.

When viewed up close, the facade seems bedizened in abstract patches of color that bring attention to the small, everyday modifications of each balcony, from the lines of hanging clothes to the tilting satellite dishes, which add their own stray elements of color to the design. The literal message of the artwork — "somos luz" — is only legible when one views the facade of the building in its entirety. With Boa Mistura’s colorful intervention, the different hues of paint join together not to emphasize but to dissolve the regular grid of the concrete facade. Thus Somos Luz is meant to inspire residents, neighbors, and passersby in this impoverished Panama City neighborhood, reminding all who catch sight of the building that they are invaluable members of a larger community.

All images courtesy of Boa Mistura. This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.

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