Creating liveable cities means embracing urban art

04 / 07 / 22 - 7 minute read

The PAT Art Lab, a work and research organisation for contemporary and urban art, is expanding its focus. Thomas Wels, co-CEO of PATRIZIA, is a long-time enthusiast of graffiti and street art. Over two decades, he has established a private art collection called The Rainbow Collection. Here he discusses the broadening of the aims of PAT Art Lab and his relationship to art with Tania Di Brita, curator of the PAT Art Lab 


Tania Di Brita

Mural by Okuda San Miguel 1, details, SCALE 2017

Tania Di Brita: First, what is the PAT Art Lab?

THOMAS WELS: The PAT Art Lab is not a new initiative; it started some years ago. The idea was to give artists space to express their creativity on public murals at specific sites. When we started rethinking the PAT Art Lab, the idea arose to expand the spaces to include the interiors of PATRIZIA buildings. This has already happened in some of our main office locations. So, the PAT Art Lab is now an initiator of art projects and an art collection. And we are only at the beginning of this fantastic initiative.

Tania: What is the connection between the PAT Art Lab and street and urban art. Why is the focus on this artistic movement?

THOMAS: The connection is real estate. PATRIZIA is a major pan-European real estate company. The movement started in the US and then spilt over to Europe, and there was always a connection with urban development or gentrification. As a leading company in the real estate industry, PATRIZIA has an opportunity to provide and curate walls that feature amazing murals from interesting and well-known artists. There is a logical connection between real estate and the art we encounter in
urban spaces, and PATRIZIA keeps this in mind when we start building new real estate or reshaping existing buildings.

Mural by Okuda San Miguel 1, details, SCALE 2017

Tania: Can you tell us when you discovered street art?

THOMAS: I discovered urban art through photography some 20 years ago. I was visiting industrial sites in Zurich when I first came across it, and that was when the fascination started – through digital photography. As part of my work in finance, I travelled to larger cities internationally, including New York, where I saw many exciting developments in the movement. Urban art was initially an urban phenomenon, as the name implies. Now it’s everywhere, but it requires canvasses, that is factories, rundown areas and other places where walls are available.



Tania: Besides availability, there is also visibility. In street art, artists want as many people as possible to admire their work. Another task of the PAT Art Lab must be to ensure that murals by artists have excellent visibility.

THOMAS: Yes. Speaking of availability, I would introduce the term ‘managed’ or ‘curated availability’. PATRIZIA contributes spaces temporarily through curated availability. Artists can use these spaces to express themselves and, in addition, this approach helps to avoid graffiti vandalism.

Tania: Creativity has been part of humanity since we first began drawing on cave walls, but modern cities particularly attract such expressions. Why is this?

THOMAS: I think it’s the availability of spaces. Graffiti artists are always seeking to express themselves wherever they find a spare space on a wall, train, hoarding, billboard or disused factory. For example, in Brick Lane in London, it’s accepted that creativity and colour codes change continuously. Young artists are attracted to rundown or disused areas in cities to express themselves in attractive and colourful ways!

Tania: But what exactly attracts you to street and urban art?

THOMAS: Perhaps it’s a question of education. I’m not an artist, but I was confronted by constructivist art in Switzerland 40 years ago and liked it. Constructivist art aimed to reflect modern industrial society and urban space, and rejected decorative stylisation. So for me, urban art is about pushing boundaries. It is wild and outside my comfort zone and takes me to places I usually would not go.

Mural by Satone and Axelvoid, SCALE 2017

Tania: Speaking of graffiti, I assume you wouldn’t be happy if someone randomly started tagging your property. As a respected member of the financial community, how do you approach the issue of art in public spaces?

THOMAS: I’m a little bit schizophrenic on that one. On the one hand, I collect artwork produced by artists who perhaps started as vandals. On the other hand, it can drive me mad when a window or a mailbox gets tagged. First, it’s usually ugly scribbles, and second, it’s expensive to get rid of. This is the part that drives many other people mad too. Anyhow, tags come from writers and not the artists that I like to represent in my collection.

As an asset manager or owner of real estate, you think about graffiti differently than if you’re an observer. For example, graffiti does not make sense if you are the CEO of a railway company and are forced to get your buses and trains cleaned every couple of weeks, which is expensive. As mentioned, I would love to see more of these public spaces offered for managed or curated availability. That would help avoid vandalism.

Falk ‘Akut’ Lehmann and his wife Sandra, work in progress, PATRIZIA office in Frankfurt, 2021

Tania: How do you think urban creativity contributes to the liveability of a city?

THOMAS: These artworks improve the life of a city; they add to the quality of life. What makes a city liveable? It’s not concrete walls that make a city liveable. Yes, you want cities to be clean and to reduce pollution, but in addition, it’s about the atmosphere that art, murals and pleasant areas create. People are social beings. We like sitting in coffee shops, meeting other people and exchanging ideas about the artwork before us. You don’t get that with grey concrete slabs surrounding you. People also prefer to visit lively areas. What makes a place lively? It is when it has something different, when something fun is present or maybe a new artwork is installed by an artist. From there on you attract interest and traffic to a specific area in a city.



Tania: You refer to street art as a global phenomenon – how did this come about?

THOMAS: In the 1970s and 1980s, street art was a local phenomenon. Every city had local pioneers, but at the same time, it was occurring in every metropolis in the world, so it was global. Information was exchanged between artists and their communities through journals, books and re-printed photographs. It took a lot of time for information to spread, but it did spread, so there was a growing feeling of a worldwide movement. This was helped by the artists, many of whom travelled the world to leave artistic traces. You could encounter a Blek Le Rat, originally from Paris, in Berlin, Tokyo and New York at the same time. Isn’t that fascinating? Nowadays, there is social media. An artist can instantly present their latest works to a global network.

Tania: I see your point. There is more to a city than the numbers measuring living standards. An atmosphere in a city results from the society and culture. How do you see that?

THOMAS: That is a difficult question because our business is mostly about managing individual buildings. I would say that the field of urban planning needs some rethinking. What makes a city liveable, in my opinion, is bringing back life and authenticity to various districts, whether it’s through coffee shops, retail stores, small restaurants, gardening, arts or culture in general! There should be more places for the local community to encounter each other, exchange ideas and be sociable.

The London Police, Thomas Wels (middle), Tania Di Brita, Luxembourg office, 2020

Tania: As I see the PAT Art Lab, it’s more than an organisation or platform: it’s about being a hub for the whole real estate industry that offers unusual art, which can provoke innovative solutions that ultimately result in transformation.

Tania: How do you expect PAT Art Labs to develop?

THOMAS: We have had a good start with interesting internal pilots in Luxembourg and Frankfurt. But we have too few examples, so we could do much more with our clients and our residential developments to enrich our buildings and make them artistically valuable. The PAT Art Lab could and should be that organisation.

It is a win-win-win situation: PATRIZIA provides opportunities to artists with available walls, and our buildings gain more visibility and, at the same time, enrich the city’s appearance and make it more liveable.

THOMAS: We must learn to think in a broader context. Regarding the topic I raised earlier, urban development: we use the terms ‘sustainable communities’ and ‘living cities’ very narrowly. But in terms of how we live together in cities in the future, I think art plays a critical role, alongside technology and maybe urban gardening.

Tania: Thomas, thank you very much for your time and valuable insights into art and real estate.


The PAT Art Lab is an experimental work and research organisation for contemporary and urban art, society and a sustainable future. The PAT Art Lab was founded out of a passion for art since 1984.

The vision of the PAT Art Lab is to unite artists, community engagement and sustainability with art. Points of contact may arise between art, artists, the local community, the PATRIZIA Foundation, education, institutions and other partners dealing with topics related to art or society. The goal is to strengthen social cohesion and aspire to a future worth living.

TANIA DI BRITA is the curator of the PAT Art Lab. Tania is a Swiss art historian specialised in graffiti, street and urban art.