From Pompeii to Gaza: The History of Street Art as a Voice for the People

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Street Art & Graffiti. ]

Over the past half-century, street art has evolved from squiggled lettering on subway cars to a cultural force practiced in virtually every corner of the globe. It began unsanctioned and disdained, and though some prominent street artists now sell their work for millions behind gallery doors, it remains firmly rooted in counterculture, simultaneously celebrated and dismissed. What separates it from merely decorative murals is its message, even if it doesn’t appear to be saying anything at all: its very existence empowers people with little to no voice in society.

Messages By the People, For the People

Ancient Roman Graffiti from Pompeii

As a movement, modern street art is primarily rooted in the 20th century, but of course, art and text scrawled on public surfaces has existed far longer than that. From cave paintings and engraved Arabic rock graffiti to inscriptions written by ancient tourists in the tomb of Ramesses VI, humans have always sought to leave their mark on the world in this form. Even the ancient Romans used graffiti to declare their love, insult each other and ridicule their leaders, with many examples unearthed in the ruins of Pompeii.

This kind of free, uncensored expression using the city walls as a canvas has always been classified as vandalism by those seeking to uphold both order and distinctions of class. Pristine paint jobs convey a message of their own: “We have things under control here. We’re civilized.” Beneath that often lies a concerted effort to suppress the urban poor and their frustrations, especially in times of transition when their cities begin to rapidly change, leaving them behind. To scrawl a message on a wall is to speak back to authority in a public forum and foment a sense of solidarity with those in similar positions.

“America Tropicál” by David Alfaro Siquerios, 1932, Los Angeles

Street art has flourished in various forms throughout the world, often as an expression of identity with a defiant political slant. Movimiento Muralista Mexicano, the Mexican street art movement founded in the 1920s by Diego Rivera, Clemente Orozco and David Siqueiros popularized political murals in a wave that soon spread throughout Latin America and the United States. One notable early example is the anti-imperialist “America Tropical” mural on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, depicting a crucified Chicano besieged by an eagle representing America. The piece, completed in 1932 by Siqueiros, was subsequently covered up and then restored.

During World War II, Nazis used graffiti to spread propaganda, but more often, it was a tool of resistance. A nonviolent German antifascist group called The White Rose conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign calling for active opposition to Hitler’s regime, using tin stencils to write slogans like “Down with Hitler” and “Freedom” on the walls of buildings throughout Munich before their arrest by the Gestapo in 1943. One of the group’s leaders was Sophie Scholl, who lamented just before her execution at age 21, “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go. But what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

Pushing the Boundaries and Changing Perceptions

Tag by Lady Pink, 1994, on a NYC Freight Train

By the 1970s in New York City, street art was often seen as a symptom of economic sickness, taking over train cars, brick facades, concrete walls and other surfaces in a period of great unrest. The city was bankrupt, crime rates skyrocketed, unemployment topped ten percent and there was at least one abandoned building on every block. As over a million residents fled, those who were left behind weathered the storm together.

All five boroughs and beyond became one big art studio, whether you were a poet in Chelsea or a poor youth from Queens channeling your frustrations and boredom through a can of paint. Artists like Taki 183, Tracy 168, Dondi, Lady Pink, Zephyr, Revolt and Seen tagged every imaginable surface in a free-for-all that encouraged experimentation and competition. In the meantime, as the burgeoning crack epidemic, street gangs and other symptoms of poverty and oppression became associated with graffiti, penalties grew more severe. The city’s “war on graffiti” waged on – but it wasn’t long before street art began to enter the mainstream, changing the game.

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Profit I by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1982
A mural by Keith Haring

Artists with roots in street art who gained credibility in the art world gave outsiders a new perspective on the movement, bringing marginalized identities to an institution that’s overwhelmingly white, straight and wealthy. Jean-Michel Basquiat, an American artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, and Keith Haring, a gay man who spent much of his career working to raise awareness about AIDS before dying of AIDS-related complications himself in 1990, are two notable examples.

The distinctions between graffiti and art began to blur, and the scope of expression began to widen as new forms of media were introduced. Commissions to produce sanctioned murals in public spaces multiplied, though many artists choose to remain on the dark side of the law on principle. Artists like Shepard Fairey spun early experiments with street art into business empires, and some cities began to legalize graffiti art and even encourage it.

Street Art as a Catalyst for Change

Current Affairs, Tahrir graffiti, 12MAR2012

The internet helped sweep the world of street art from its anarchic subcultural origins to a big money industry, for better or worse. It’s more accessible and widely viewed than ever, with the audience for any given piece going from the hundreds that may have passed it on the street to, potentially, millions. The fight over its commercialization is ongoing – just look at any recent Banksy-related stories for confirmation – but its anti-establishment spirit lives on.

Mohamed Mahmoud St. Murals


Today, street art campaigns by artists like Banksy, JR, BLU, ROA and many more make statements about climate change, environmental degradation, human trafficking, capitalism, fascism and hope in times of darkness. There’s still a perpetual battle between those who would speak to the world through street art and those who would silence them – exemplified by Egypt’s 2011 revolution, the artists who plastered streets like Mohamad Mahmoud with political works and the military dictatorship that has since clamped back down on the region.

Photographic Mural in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by JR
Street art in Gaza by Banksy

In Gaza, Banksy is just the most well-known of many artists to create visual public commentaries on the injustice that takes place there every day. In Brazil, artists like MurOne and Haas&Hahn work to invigorate the poorest favelas with graphic murals and bring international attention to dilapidated and under-served neighborhoods.

Banksy in Gaza


A mural by Mexican street art collective Lapiztola
Left Bank Street Art Gaza via Times of Israel

Just take a walk through your own neighborhood to find signs of street art’s immediacy and vitality and its ability to instantly respond to world events through a diverse variety of perspectives. As much as it (and the world) has changed over the past century, street art remains one of the most democratic and resilient means of expression, and its value can’t be overstated.

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[ By SA Rogers in Art & Street Art & Graffiti. ]

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Nera: The World’s First Fully 3D-Printed Motorcycle Features Airless Tires

[ By SA Rogers in Conceptual & Futuristic & Technology. ]

All black, electric and completely 3D-printed: BigRep’s Nera Motorcycle is here, and ready to change the game. The electronic components of this brand new, futuristic-looking motorbike are the only elements that weren’t created on large-scale 3D printers. Flexible bumpers replace traditional suspension systems, and those custom tires are as cool as they are intriguing.

BigRep is a leader in industrial large-scale additive manufacturing, and the Nera was created by the company’s NowLab innovation consultancy.

“The Nera combines several innovations developed by Nowlab, such as the airless tire, functional integration and embedded sensor technology,” says Nowlab’s Daniel Büning. “This bike and our other prototypes push the limits of engineering creativity and will reshape AM technology as we know it.”

The Near E-bike is preternaturally sleek, its small electric motor hidden within the rear wheel and the batteries embedded into its bodywork to eliminate the bulk of an engine. 15 different parts were printed to assemble the bike, and it weighs a total of just 132 pounds. But no performance statistics are available just yet – probably because the bike is just proof of concept to show off the possibilities of 3D printing.

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[ By SA Rogers in Conceptual & Futuristic & Technology. ]

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Contain Us: Apartment Made Of 140 Shipping Containers

[ By Steve in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

Drivelines Studios is a low-rise residential apartment building in Johannesburg, SA, constructed from 140 re-purposed metal shipping containers.

Drivelines Studios is a residential building like few others… and that’s by design. The roughly triangular, seven-story low rise fits neatly into an odd-sized lot in Maboneng, an area of JoBurg enjoying a spurt of urban renewal. According to New York-based design studio LOT-EK, Drivelines Studios “responds to the post-apartheid generation’s desire to repopulate the city’s downtown through new models of urban living.” The model may be new but the materials are not: 140 recycled and re-purposed steel shipping containers form the building’s internal and external structure.

Selection Metalling

We’ve featured shipping container projects by LOT-EK before (here and here), but the 75,000 sq ft Drivelines Studios project is their largest such effort to date – it’s also South Africa’s largest residential shipping container project. Costs were managed quite creatively. For example, the upcycled metal container boxes were organized by color and their exterior surfaces were left unpainted, ultimately determining the building’s outward appearance.

Containment Strategy

During the course of construction, the containers were trimmed and assembled on-site with preordained combinations of containers forming distinct living and working spaces. One common theme is the large diagonal cut-out angled from the corner to the center of each container’s long side. This cutting style resulted in large windows offering grand views of Albertina Sisulu Road ( a major arterial thoroughfare) on one side and the building’s inner courtyard on the other. Once assembled and stacked together, the trimmed containers present a repeating and mirroring pattern on the building’s facades.

Inside the Box

“Embracing the triangular geometry of the site, the building is conceived as a billboard where two separate volumes of residential units are hinged at the narrow east end of the lot,” according to a spokesperson for LOT-EK, “framing the social space of the open interior courtyard. As in a billboard, the building’s outer facades are straight and flush with the lot line while the facades in the inner courtyard are articulated by the staircases, the elevator tower and the bridges connecting all levels, and by the open circulation paths activated by the units’ spillover onto their outdoor space.”


Drivelines Studios is a seven-story tall low rise building. The ground level first floor features residential units at the rear, allowing a mix of small retail spaces opening onto Albertina Sisulu Road. Moving inward, a private landscaped courtyard offers residents a soothing urban green space highlighted by a swimming pool. All six levels above the ground floor feature residential units only. These open-plan studio apartments provide from 300 sq ft to 600 sq ft of living space, with each and every unit having an open “balcony” space facing the inner courtyard and the network of walkways.

Shipped Off the Old Block

“The building’s social intention and agenda is in line with the emerging urban community of its surrounding neighborhood,” states LOT-EK, “taking an active role in the revitalization, reactivation and re-imagining of the city’s downtown.” Some historical trivia: the building’s footprint was once occupied by an auto repair and service shop called “Drivelines”, from which the development derives its name.

Container Contentment

Not everyone is thrilled with the emergence of Drivelines Studios, however, as some see the project as fueling gentrification in Maboneng and the low-income Jeppestown neighborhood. Jonathan Liebmann, the founder of project developer Propertuity, takes such criticism in stride. “Four years after we started work in Maboneng, we decided to focus on delivering affordable residential accommodation in anticipation of market demand,” explains Liebmann. “In Maboneng, the average rental has been about the equivalent of $330 per month but we foresee this decreasing to around $230 over the next couple of years.” Time will tell, of course, but in the meantime we’ll just have to… contain ourselves. All images via Flickr member Jorge Andrés Calderón (Aireos) under a Creative Commons license.

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Boats + Yards: Dutch Architects Convert Cargo Ships into Waterfront Homes

[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

Lifting cargo ships out of boat yards in the water up onto adjacent land, a Dutch design firm is creating a series of creatively recycled estates using maritime vessels that are no longer seaworthy.

The Dutch firm, Studio Komma, has dubbed their project the Marine-doc Estate. Their process involves matching different ships to ideal lots and landscapes while also maximizing connections between land and water.

The former merchant ships are spacious, lending themselves to large outdoor areas and expansive greened roofs. The original metal will be cut into to create windows and doors, but left sufficiently intact to retain structural integrity. Each ship is different, resulting in a series of unique homes bound together by a shared nautical heritage.

According to the architects, original features such as the stern, wheelhouse and foredeck will be enhanced with “sleek geometric shapes” on the exterior, combining modern features with original details. Measuring up to 200 feet in length, the elongated volume of the interior will be broken up with flexible partitions that will enable future residents to personalize the layout.

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Life-Sized Interactive Drawings by Levalet Envision a Parallel Universe

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Street Art & Graffiti. ]

Life-sized street art interventions play out scenes from a parallel universe on public surfaces all around us in the interactive works of French artist Levalet. Raised in Guadeloupe, France, the artist (also known as art teacher Charles Leval) saw the graffiti that surrounded him as part of the city’s identity, prompting him to look at the streets in a whole new way. What if everyday objects and scenes had an entirely different purpose than the ones we see for them?


Details of the city that might otherwise be unnoticed by its inhabitants – like dangling cables, clumps of ivy and water spouts – become the genesis of strange, creative and absurd scenes, like glimpses of a world just barely out of reach. While much of Levalet’s work is wheat pasted right onto urban surfaces, he sometimes creates cut-outs that can be layered on top of the fabric of the city, giving it a whole new dimension.

“The street is a place where I can work freely, I don’t have financial or time pressures,” said Levalet in a 2015 interview with Street Art Paris. “And this is mostly about besieging public places, everyday places, and being able to put up work that creates a dialogue with the real world. I like the idea of trying to combine several realities, using the world as a medium, and as a guide for representation, positioning the artistic image, in a place that was not meant for it in the first place.”

“Topography is very important for me, this is why I always check a place before I work on it. I try to mix the world of representation with the real world by playing on the physical cohesion of the situations I put up. Architecture supports my work. Then I work on staging the artwork with photographs. Photography allows me to play with the point of view and to intensify the ‘window-dressing’ dimension of my work. Photography also allows me to create a dramatization within the dramatization by including passers-by or other elements.”

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Four-Dimensional Murals: Artist Folds Space Inside Architectural Facades

[ By WebUrbanist in Art & Street Art & Graffiti. ]

Folding and flexible geometric forms seem to weave in and out of the structures graced with murals by David Louf (known as Mr. June), seeming to imply what a blank facade could have been in the past or become in some imagined future.

Louf toys with a combination of reality and abstraction. Depending on the piece, he sometimes hints at hidden doors, windows and interior spaces. In other cases, his work appears to deconstruct spacetime itself through layered voids.

His murals have been painted everywhere from Miami and Denver to Aruba, China and Berlin, Germany, each a collaboration with his graphic design studio and an exploration of architectural speculation, like science fiction in art form.

Each piece is naturally site-specific, drawing on the materials and structure of the setting, playing up existing features while imagining new details, many of which warp reality around them. See videos of his works in progress above.

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Designed for Disassembly: Architecture Built with its Own End in Mind

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

Few of us make plans for our lives with our own deaths in mind, so perhaps it’s not surprising that architects don’t usually spend much of the design process thinking about the virtually inevitable demolition of their creations. It might seem as morbid and premature as college graduates making plans for their own funerals, but considering the entire life cycle of a structure before it’s even built could have a massive impact on the amount of waste we generate – and help us adapt to the uncertain conditions of the future.

Though some buildings and infrastructure may stand for many hundreds of years, the vast majority of it is rendered obsolete in a matter of decades. Practical needs and aesthetic preferences change, and materials wear down. Currently, about 80% of all materials and minerals in circulation in the U.S. economy are consumed by the construction industry, and about 70% of construction waste is concrete.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that an estimated 104 million tons of materials were sent to landfills from project sites around the country, and 92% of that waste came from demolitions and renovations. Construction debris often contains lead, asbestos, mercury, arsenic and other hazardous substances, and modern composite materials aren’t necessarily much better for human health and the environment.

In the United States, where the average life span of highway bridges is about 70 years and the majority of bridges currently in use were built in 1945, we’re in dire need of a refresh, but all those crumbling structures will have to go somewhere. When the old east span of the Bay Bridge in Oakland, California was replaced, Caltrans took care to dismantle it so some parts could be reused in creative new ways, but the project still produced tons of lead-contaminated hazardous materials that were then sent to a landfill. What if the bridge – and others like it – had been designed with components that could easily be dismantled and reused for other projects?

A movement called Design for Deconstruction (DfD), sometimes called Design for Disassembly, proposes the research and development of new structural system concepts that facilitate truly sustainable construction through the assessment of a project’s entire life cycle. That means there’s a way to reuse or recycle every component of a structure using existing recycling streams. Spearheaded by architect and building scientist Bradley Guy, DfD offers a collection of design principles that aim for prefabrication, pre-assembly and modular construction, simplified connection details and building systems, minimized parts and materials, ease of disassembly, flexibility and adaptability, the use of reusable materials and considerations for worker safety.

Design for Deconstruction was first defined in the 1990s, but the general concept has existed for much longer. The Crystal Palace at Sydenham is an early example, built in Hyde Park, London to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. Made of cast iron and plate glass, the 990,000-square-foot building with an interior height of 128 feet was designed to be temporary, simple, cheap and easy to transport. Its modular panels were packed up and moved to South London for reassembly, and it remained there until its destruction by fire in 1936.

The Future Arena, built for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, was designed to be dismantled and reused.

One of the most important factors in DfD is the longevity of the materials. There are lots of temporary structures out there, built to be disassembled and transported, but few of them are designed to last, and they rarely even come close to approaching the scale of The Crystal Palace. Equally crucial is follow-through, as proven by a recent project in Brazil. Like most structures built for the Olympic Games, the Rio 2016 Olympic Handball Arena was a prime candidate for experimental methods of reuse. At the start of the project, Brazil’s economy was booming, but by 2014, the country was in the grips of a recession. Plans to dismantle the Arena and transform it into four primary schools never came to fruition, and now it’s rotting along with the rest of the city’s Olympic structures – the very fate its architects hoped to avoid.

Loblolly House by Kieran Timberlake
Loblolly House by Kieran Timberlake

But when it’s done right, Design for Deconstruction has the potential to revolutionize the future of architecture. Closed-loop construction systems don’t just have a lower ecological footprint, they encourage innovation and produce unique aesthetics. Two houses by architecture firm Kieran Timberlake give us a glimpse of what this could look like. Loblolly House, built in 2006, takes inspiration from treehouses in its design and construction, with pre-built modules and “cartridges” that connect with simple hand tools. Cellophane House was assembled like a car, with the entire construction process broken down into integrated assemblies that were constructed off site, delivered by trailers and stacked with a crane. It was built for exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Cellophane House by Kieran Timberlake
Cellophane House by Kieran Timberlake

“Materials were selected to be lightweight, minimizing embodied energy, and reusable within existing recycling streams. The same aluminum frame used for Loblolly House was scaled up from two stories to five, enabled by a strengthening system of custom-designed steel connectors. The SmartWrap™ skin was attached to that frame, with interior floors, ceilings, and partitions made of structural plastic. The skin was envisioned as a filter, selectively letting in daylight and seasonal heat and keeping out UV light and hot or cold air, depending on the season.”

“The final experiment at MoMA was its disassembly. The house was deglazed, un-stacked, and disassembled at ground level using basic handheld tools. Parts were organized on pallets and removed from the site in two days. Virtually no waste was generated, and 100 percent of the energy embodied in materials was recovered. The only remnant was a patch of gravel in an asphalt lot.”

Cafe Kureon by Kengo Kuma
The Pop-Up House by Multipod Studio can be dismantled with a screwdriver.
A Simple Factory Building by Pencil Office

Other recent examples include Kengo Kuma’s Jenga-like Cafe Kureon, the Pop-Up House by Multipod Studio and ‘A Simple Factory Building’ by Pencil Office, which features a pollution-filtering facade, aluminum window walls and reinforced concrete construction designed to be fully recycled at the end of its 33-year lease period.

Design for Deconstruction Housing for Working Class by Mahshid Fadaei

Iranian architect Mahshid Fadaei’s ‘Design for Deconstruction Housing for Working Class’ envisions an 800-unit complex set within a fully recyclable frame that uses easily replaced modular housing pods connecting to each other with a non-rigid plug-and-play system. While shipping containers are an obvious choice for this sort of system, they have some constraints that make them less than ideal in certain applications, making purpose-built pods an attractive option.

Architect William McDonough, champion of ‘Cradle to Cradle design’ – which considers the full lifecycle of consumer products – integrates his drive for smart sustainability into his own projects. His firm completed the NASA Sustainability Base (pictured top), a 50,000-square-foot, lunar-shaped complex housing 200 staff designed with a plan for how every last component will be dealt with at the end of the building’s life (which is, McDonough notes, probably far into the future.)

Since Design for Deconstruction is still in its youth, we’ve yet to see many real-life examples of its end game in action. But as climate change and other factors call the conditions of the next century into question, architecture that’s made to be as adaptable, versatile and reusable as possible could help us weather whatever is to come, and finding a way to reign in our burgeoning landfills is a no-brainer.

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Acoustic Defense: Photo Series Reflects on Derelict British “Sound Mirrors”

[ By WebUrbanist in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

In the wake of World War I, the United Kingdom developed a powerful yet relatively low-tech architectural system for detecting incoming enemy airplanes, the remnants of which can still be found across the countryside.

Starting in the 1920s, these concrete sound mirrors would passively gather, reflect and concentrate acoustic waves, directing the sound to a listening post on the ground as part of an early warning alert system.

Incoming sounds were amplified by microphones and listened to by operators wearing headphones. Today, most are abandoned and in disrepair, though some are protected with walls and fences and/or accompanied by historical plaques.

Based in Basel, photographer Piercarlo Quecchia discovered the existence of sound mirrors thanks to an album cover featuring one such structure, and began the find and photograph them — 13 in total (all that remain), most of which can be found on the southern edge of England.

They may look monolithic and simple, but the curves were carefully calibrated. The designs were specifically calculated (and sound mirrors accordingly engineered) to pick up aircraft engine noises.

“They represent an incredible demonstration of how sound can generate a physical form: both the curvature radius and the dimensions of the dishes are studied and designed according to the sound frequency that they must reflect,” explains the photographer. He hopes the series will continue to raise awareness of these artifacts.

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Bought to be Destroyed: Artist Ron English Will Whitewash His New Banksy

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Street Art & Graffiti. ]

Street artist Ron English paid over $730K for a work of art by Banksy – and he plans to paint over it. It might sound like some kind of silly high-profile artist feud, but English harbors no animosity toward the infamously anonymous creator of ‘Slave Labour,’ the mural he just bought at auction. He just doesn’t want anyone else to have it.

The mural, which depicts a small child on his knees with a sewing machine producing a string of Union Jack bunting, was originally painted onto the side of a London store in protest of sweatshop souvenirs before the 2012 Olympics. The mural disappeared in 2013, to the anger of local residents, and later resurfaced to be sold at auction for $1.1 million. It’s all part of an ongoing scheme in which building owners have Banksy works chiseled off their property and sold at auction without the artist’s consent.

Ron English, an American contemporary artist known for vivid, often satirical works with a comic book aesthetic, is sick of it.

“My idea for this painting is to whitewash it for my good pal Banksy, I only wish I could’ve spent more money for it,” English told a crowd of reporters in Los Angeles. “I’m going to paint it white again, I’m done. This is a blow for street art. It shouldn’t be bought and sold. I’m going to paint over it and just include it in one of the walls in my house. We’re tired of people stealing our stuff off the streets and re-selling it so I’m just going to buy everything I can get my hands on and whitewash it.”

But, English notes, while he might be crazy, he’s not stupid. He plans to sell the whitewashed painting for a million dollars – and he’ll probably get it.

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Going, going, gone…

A post shared by Banksy (@banksy) on

In October, Banksy’s work Girl with Balloon literally self-destructed the moment it was sold at auction for more than £1 million at Sotheby’s in front of an astonished crowd.

Learn more at WebUrbanist’s Banksy archive.

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Troll Train: Brazil’s Steamy Mundo a Vapor Museum

[ By Steve in Culture & History & Travel. ]

The front facade of the Mundo a Vapor train museum in Canela, Brazil recreates a spectacular Parisian train wreck from 1895 in steamingly accurate detail.

No doubt the worst – or at least, the most embarrassing – day in the history of the Chemins de fer de l’Ouest railway was October 22 of 1895, the date of the Montparnasse Derailment. Captured for posterity through the miracle of photography, this epic urban train wreck saw the twelve-car Granville to Paris and Montparnasse Express train enter the Gare Montparnasse station at too high a speed, suffer a brake failure, smash through safety buffers, careen 100 feet across the station concourse, and finally burst through the building’s outer wall, falling 30 feet into the street below. Ta da!

Steam locomotive No. 721 was hauling 10 coaches and 131 passengers at the time. The only fatality of the spectacular crash, however, was a woman in the street who was struck by displaced masonry while waiting for her husband. Though CF de l’Ouest was absorbed into the French national rail system in 1909, their day of infamy lives on, day after day, thousands of miles away in Brazil. Flickr member RV1864 has posted several photographs of the accident and the subsequent cleanup, two of which are presented above.

Troll Steam Ahead

Fast-forward 96 years and fast- er, sideways 5,837 miles to Canela, a charming town of 40,000 set jewel-like in the Gaucho Highlands of Rio Grande do Sul. Canela (Portuguese for “cinnamon”) is a popular tourist destination boasting several noteworthy attractions including Mundo a Vapor… the “World of Steam” train museum and theme park, which opened in 1991.

Exterior Loco Motive

It’s hard to miss Mundo a Vapor, just like it was hard to miss a major train station in Paris… we’re looking at you, engine driver Guillaume-Marie Pellerin. Unlike the old (demolished in 1969) Gare Montparnasse train terminal, over-achieving locomotive No. 721 is a feature, not a bug… and yes, the replica engine proudly displays its ID ‘cuz if one’s gonna troll, might as well troll to the max. These images from Flickr members Rosanetur and Solon Aguiar (solonneto) date from November of 2017 and September of 2012, respectively.

Steam Dream Team

Mundo a Vapor isn’t your average train museum and calling it a “theme park” is a bit of a stretch – the only real “ride” is a small steam train that, perhaps fortunately, does NOT crash through the second-story wall. What’s up with that? Here comes the history! Back in the 1920s, Ernesto Urbani ran a small business servicing and repairing the steam engines used at many of the local sawmills. Urbani’s sons Omar, Benito and Hermes spent their childhoods in the shop, learning all about steam engines and crafting miniature versions in their spare time. The boys – now retired gents – opened Mundo a Vapor in 1991 as both a tribute to their father and an homage to their love of all things steam.

Iron Horseplay

As such, Mundo a Vapor isn’t so much a museum of railroads as it is a showcase of the Urbani’s many handmade steam engines and miniature mechanical devices. For example, one steam-driven machine presses pulp into usable paper while another spits out pot-metal souvenirs cast from molten solder. Not exactly thrilling but hey – there’s always the replica crashed locomotive out front for photo opportunities. Be sure to snap the shutter when the stack belches thick white smoke. Flickr members Contato Dearaujo and Cesar Cardoso captured these scenes (and our lead image) in April of 2014 and June of 2011, respectively.

South Polar Express

Canela (along with its sister city Gramado) lies on the so-called “Rota Romantica” and it’s popular with tourists year-round. Successive waves of immigrants from the Azores, Germany and Italy have influenced the town’s architecture, not to mention its overall European character. Snow often falls during the winter, prompting extensive Christmastime events and activities. Someone better tell Santa that reindeer can’t fly but steam locomotives can…  for a few seconds. Flickr member Anderson Rancan snapped some of the holiday disaster fiasco fun in late 2008.

Keepin’ It Rail

Flickr member Jeff Belmonte brings us these night-time images of Mundo a Vapor’s crash-tacular facade taken in early 2006. Flying down to Rio – or a tad farther, to the Sao Paulo region – isn’t an option for many in the Northern Hemisphere but thanks to Mundo a Vapor you can pay a five-minute visit to the museum via this YouTube video. In the meantime, and to paraphrase Bogie from Casablanca, “We’ll always have the Paris trainwreck” thanks to those masters of steam (and trolling), the brothers Urbani.

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