Physical Graffiti: Beauty for the Built Environment with Drones

Why do cities have to look so… well, so grey? Why can’t we inject a bit of colour into our surroundings? Beyond the artistic works of Banksy and others like him, a great deal of graffiti is considered vandalism to be painted over or removed – back to grey concrete. Our cities have lost a lot of beautiful, colourful artwork this way. But drone technology is promising to breathe creative life back to the structures we pass every day.

Paint By Drone

Paint by Drone is a project being undertaken by Turin-based architecture and design firm, Carlo Ratti Associati. Professor Carlo Ratti, founder of Carlo Ratti Associati studio and Director of the Senseable City Lab at MIT, explains:

“Our cities are filled with blank vertical surfaces, either permanent or temporary. Scaffold sheeting, for instance, has great potential, but in fact it is mostly used in bland ways – left empty or employed for advertising

With Paint by Drone, we would like to unleash the potential of ‘phygital graffiti’. Any façade can become a space where to showcase, new forms of open-source, collaborative art or to visualise the heartbeat of a metropolis through real-time data.”

Live events presenting the Paint by Drone project are planned for Berlin and Turin this autumn, where scaffold sheeting will be covered in artwork executed by drones. This could be the beginning of something much bigger; a movement towards a more beautiful urban landscape that will lift spirits and enhance creativity all round.

So how does it work?

The system developed by the Paint by Drone team uses a formation of small UAVs (aka flying drones), each carrying their own paint tank, using CMYK colours, as per a standard printing process. The artist submits her design by a smartphone or tablet-controlled mobile app. The outline can be created directly by the artist on the wall and then filled in by drones, or executed completely autonomously. At the events in Berlin and Turin, there is even talk of allowing passers-by the opportunity to see their own designs on the wall.

“Imagine how this could make the realisation of works of public art both easier and safer, in urban contexts as well as the infrastructure level – for example alongside highways, within railway galleries, on bridges and viaducts,” Prof. Ratti added.

“We are keen to explore [drones’] artistic use, particularly as a way to engage with the built environment,” Ratti told Dezeen. “The idea of leveraging drones and, more in general, digital technologies to create participatory works of public art.”

A Future For Art

This is one fantastic example of how creatives can work with technology to realise new concepts in previously unavailable ways. Not only is there a potential for significant urban renewal, but it offers a vision of a future in which our creativity can be fuelled by symbiosis with machines. In a time when technology is being constantly talked down by commentators, for its impact on jobs and perceived potential to rob the world of human art, projects like Paint by Drones make it clear that the creative world can benefit hugely from integration with technology.