The word pretty isn't often associated with the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro. But gazing across the hills toward the notorious Santa Maria favela, you might be pleasantly surprised by the burst of colors-the result of a recent social art project launched by Dutch design duo Haas&Hahn.
"We chose to bring color to a neighborhood that did not have a tradition of that," says Dre Urhahn, who, with his partner Jeroen Koolhaas, enlisted community members to view their walls as a blank canvas teeming with creative possibilities. "We did not just want to bring something to the neighborhood, but to let something grow out of the inspiration that we found there."
Pockets of rainbow-bright residences and streets pop up in cities across the globe; some are contrived, like Haas&Hahn's favela project and the commissioning of a blue-painted town in southern Spain by Sony Pictures to promote the Smurfs 3D movie (no, really). Others, like the eclectic homes and murals of Valparaíso, Chile, are more organic, inspired by the creative spirits of the residents that inhabit them.
In many instances, the origins or inspirations of how these cities came to be so multicolored are the stuff of legend, their true provenances lost centuries ago. Could it really be that the Caribbean island of Curaçao was forced by government decree to dye its waterfront anything but white, to soothe an afflicted governor's migraines?
From a monochromatic Indian city painted pink for a visiting English prince to the candy-colored waterfront of Miami's South Beach, these landscapes bring a new level of vibrancy to austere deserts, mountains, slums, and already sparkling aqua waters.