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    France’s Graffiti Général Gets Virtual Afterlife on Eve of Its Destruction

    Written by

    DJ Pangburn


    Image via Flickr

    France’s famed Graffiti Général, or Magasins Généraux de Pantin, is set for renovation. What this means is that nearly a decade of graffiti is, like Queen’s 5 Pointz before it, about to disappear. To preserve the graffiti, BETC Digital—an ad agency that is moving into the building—created a virtual Graffiti Général, an “immersive WebGL plunge into an abandoned building near Paris and the countless graffiti works that it enshrines.”

    “On the eve of it’s restoration, the memory of the building in its current state is preserved and accessible to everybody,” wrote BETC, who used a combination of open-source technologies to pull the virtual simulation off.

    The developers used ThreeJS on an HTML5 page to build the WebGL environment, modelling 20,000 square meters of real estate into the 3D model. They also incorporated 5,203 hi-res photos of the building, color-correcting them before integrating the images into the model.

    Upon entering the site, users can choose standard or high definition interactive viewing. Standard looks just fine, but if your desktop or laptop is powerful, go high-def. The environment takes a few moments to load. Once in, it looks as if you’ve been plopped down in the middle of an abandoned parking garage.

    As the site explains in its “About” section, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry originally opened the building in 1931 as Magasins Généraux in Pantin. Situated beside the Ourcq Canal, it was a customs-free zone. During the ‘60s and ‘70s, changes in the agriculture and food industries hit Magasins Généraux hard, and in 2000 it closed. Shortly after it became a “playground for the graffiti artists.”

    To aid in the WebGL exploration, the designers provide users with a map of the building’s six floors. Users can, like a video game, strafe left and right, walk, run, and turn 360 degrees. Visitors of this virtual graffiti palace can also tag surfaces, save the image, download it, and share with others. Musical accompaniment is also available.

    This is small consolation to the graffiti artists who built this shrine to street art. That an ad agency like BETC would eventually move in and wipe the slate clean was predictable. One way or another, as the Situationists noted with their concept of recuperation, radical movements and countercultures are almost always absorbed into the machine.

    BETC basically says as much in the site’s credits section:

    “Unless otherwise indicated, all images on these pages are copyrighted. All rights reserved. No part of these pages may be used for any purpose other than personal use. Therefore, reproduction, modification, storage in a retrieval system or retransmission, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, for reasons other than personal use, is strictly prohibited.

    At least they give the graffitos the option for artistic credit. Still, seeing these Graffiti Général images on a digital simulation pales in comparison to experiencing the real thing. Oh, and great advertising for BETC. While some will hate it, others will love it.