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Establishing a ‘there’ on Germantown Avenue with big, bold colors

One of the most ambitious murals in Philadelphia is coming to completion this week.

Two city blocks of Germantown Avenue, at Lehigh Avenue, have become an abstract color field of giant painted stripes and solids.

Unlike thousands of other murals already painted on Philadelphia walls, this features no portraits or landscapes, contains no symbols expressing the character of the community. It doesn’t tell a story. It is designed to boost the local economy.

"This is social practice," said Jane Golden, director of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program. "The merging of art and development is coming to life."

With a $300,000 budget of public and private funds, Golden invited the Dutch artists known as Haas and Hahn (Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn) to live in an apartment above Germantown Avenue and Huntingdon Street for a year, to design and execute a mural that would splash across all the building facades for a solid block, spilling over into the surrounding blocks.

The block of buildings—street-level storefronts with apartments above—is a broken smile of inhabited, vacant, abandoned, and crumbling. The facades were plagued with flaking paint, rotting cornices, and rampant graffiti. The artists needed to tie them all together with a bold graphic design.

"Every building has it’s challenges," said Urhahn. "You end up standing in front of it, and looking at it, and realizing it’s probably the first time anybody has ever looked at that building for a long time, and cared."

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