Written by Viviana Zuluaga.
Humans, plants, animals, and buildings all have skin. As a fourth skin- the “first” skin being human skin, the “second” being clothing, and the “third” interior surroundings- architecture is a canvas where one can illustrate symbolic elaborations about social standing, and personal identity. Architecture is an extension to the functions of the skin; the built environment expands our personal space into another space that is not limited to the contact and identity of our bodies.
A man by the name of Klaus greets us with his sharp blue eyes; he is as fascinating as the walls he lives within. Born in Germany, at twenty years of age, he visited New York City where he worked as a mechanic for French cars then as merchant marine. He seized luck and hopped on a train to Pennsylvania where he worked for a well-known developer and realtor of Westchester. Today, he lives on the outside of the architectural skin of Wynwood. As a resident of the area, he speaks of the development plans of the neighborhood from new private art schools to highrises. When asked if he’s ever been inside these decorated walls nodding with uneasy tolerance, he went on talking about the many locals he has helped move out because they couldn’t afford to keep their business, homes and art galleries due to the increase in rent. He states: “You have to make a lot of money to be in this neighborhood, big galleries from Europe and around the world are making their big time money in events like art Basel”. Klaus does not perceive the gentrification of the area as the expiration of the artistic murals displayed on Wynwoods’ skin – “graffiti will never die… people come from around the world to participate in the local art competition”. His experience and perception of these walls are valid yet, not representative of the entire community. Klaus sleeps on the streets of Wynwood, his territory is not marked by thresholds or defined volumes but rather by the stories painted on the outer skin.
The powerful meaning and influence of the artistic skin of the neighborhood propels Klaus to be a guardian of the walls. He narrates how he defended the skinning of a artwork called “Running with Wolves” by Evoca1 a local Dominican figurative painter. To Klaus this painting is symbolic because it’s about saving life and protecting the innocent. To some, these symbolic tattoos don’t fully represent the identity of the people that have lived here for years but rather have become scars in the shift of Wynwood. If the architectural skin is an inclusive extension to the interior and allowance to the exterior does it include human being from the inside out of the parameters or outside in? Our physical surroundings are tangible only through the lens of human perception. 1
On the inside of the walls on North Miami Avenue a couple blocks away from Klaus, a restaurant owner born in Connecticut, mother of six, holds her new born tight as she greets us with a smile. She relocated her business to Wynwood in 2011 residing in the high-rise apartments blocks away from her restaurant. For her, the urban development of Wynwood increases her clientele base and shifts from local to foreigners and is of an economic value. Interesting enough when asked if the interior skin of her restaurant relates to the exterior facades of the community with a smirk she responded, “No way! There are cooler things happening in here then out there”. Each skin differs from one another; one protects or sets a limit from different realities. The parallel of the spectrum validates her perception. And just like Klaus, she is engaging in a interchange between different objects, people, and her perception of what is the extension of outside-inside, whether these skins are related or not. Both share and transit within the skins of Wynwood echoing and absorbing stimulis for the spirit, mind, and the physical world that affects both physiologically and psychologically.
Can the carving or decoration of this architectural canvas be part of a community’s identity? Is the markings key of the gentrification of a neighborhood? Can it elude meaning or a sense of advocacy? Does it affect our being? The many skins of Wynwood have had many shedding through its lifetime. From the time it was established as farmland to the time it was known as “little San Juan.” Markings of graffiti are palpable issues within this community. Like tattoos on our skin that permanently identify us within a society; they become meaningful decorations that project to the inside.
1Caan, Shashi. Rethinking Design and IntWzeriors Human Beings in the Built Environment. London: Laurence King, 2011.