Large tower blocks. They have a commanding public presence, but sometimes don’t look too appealing.  And yet, when the money available for their upkeep is limited, it may seem problematic to prioritise aesthetic improvements. (Plenty of people have suggested that London’s ill-fated Grenfell Tower had been renovated primarily with the gaze of its more wealthy neighbours in mind.)

Well, I had a free day in Gdańsk, so I visited the Zaspa housing estate, on the city’s outskirts.  By all accounts, this was a fairly grim-looking place in the old days. But the blocks were all renovated in the early 2000s: this involved installing thermal insulation and painting the buildings in pastel colours. I think the outcome still looks a little austere, but it’s much better than grey concrete.

lBut what to do with those big blank walls at the end of buildings? Large murals have slowly covered these – signed and dated by their artists, rather than as graffiti. In fact, I went there because a leaflet in my hotel included Zaspa’s murals in a list of ‘The Best of Gdańsk’ – alongside the usual medieval buildings, churches and museums.  I didn’t have a guide, so I may have missed the most interesting examples, but these photos should give you a sense of the place:

 

Perhaps these murals cost the local housing authorities nothing at all (I don’t know – perhaps artists would be happy to pay for their own materials if their work can be displayed on huge canvasses like this). In any case, I’m struggling to think of who loses out from this initiative.  And it was interesting to compare Zaspa with other blocks of flats not too far away, whose ends face the main road, and instead display large advertisements for new property and holidays. A rather different way of adding interest to a wall, with a rather different affective outcome.

 

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Gdańsk, 23 August 2017

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