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Murals: Between Art and Adverting

August 18, 2015   /    

I recently spent time in Vancouver on Commercial Drive. After a few hours of highly entertaining people watching, I walked up from E. Broadway along the drive. Commercial drive provides a rich pedestrian environment with interactive store fronts, patios and constant visual stimulation. On a warm Saturday afternoon, it is one of the most active urban walk you can take in Vancouver.


A noticeable urban design feature is the numerous murals used to revitalized the old commercial buildings and animate blank facades.Within 4 or 5 block, I came across a dozen murals. Some providing illustrations supporting the commercial use of the building such as the Italian country side image on the wall of an Italian restaurant or the old style cars along the wall of a car parts store. Some were representing a community feature or vision such as the mural on the Legion 195 building.


Something was clearly missing! The murals were truly used to animate the buildings and the pedestrian experience.

What was missing is the pure use of highly visible walls for advertising.

The murals were often complementary to the commercial use in the building but not a large advertisement for a car maker or soft drink. This is not by accident and it is common for cities to implement land use and zoning bylaw regulations to limit advertising for 3rd party on murals. Generally some advertising is allowed but the main objective is for providing an artistic expression and contributing to the urban design environment.


The advertising industry will often submit rezoning or variance request to use prime space of buildings providing high exposure. If executed properly and with sensitivity, it can contribute to the context and provide revenues to the owner of the building.

We sometimes so phone or car companies pushing the limit by painting one of their product (highly recognizable like an IPhone 6) but without any logo or branding. This can work in certain municipalities but not everywhere.

Next time you see a mural try to see if you can draw the line between Art and Advertising?