Designing Out Graffiti

Graffiti is a form of vandalism that involves marking property with writing, tags, symbols or illustrations, generally without the consent of the property owner (Morgan & Lewis, 2020). Graffiti is perceived as a form of urban decay and a contributing element to the perception of a decrease in community safety and an increase in antisocial and criminal behaviours. According to study completed in 2014, the estimated damage to property caused by incidents of vandalism and graffiti in 2011 was $2.7 billion or $1,853 per incident (Smith et al., 2014). Despite the general decline in property crime over the last ten years, the significant cost associated with the control of vandalism and graffiti on a per incident basis and the negative impacts upon the community mean that these remain issues that warrant attention. Additionally, graffiti vandalism poses a safety risk to the perpetrators as the target locations are often at dangerous heights or unsafe locations such as bridges, rail corridors or motorways. Graffiti is an illegal activity in Australia and is an offence in NSW under the Graffiti Control Act 2008 and the NSW Crimes Act 1900.

From a risk mitigation perspective, there are numerous measures that can be adopted. In line with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design methodologies, implementing CPTED strategies such as promoting passive surveillance, improving lighting, use of video surveillance, decreasing easy access to any blank spaces etc. prevents the crime in the first place. However, additional measures at the design stage focus on materials selection with a view to minimise the damage and/or to make cleaning up easier and less expensive.

Therefore, methods to counter graffiti vandalism of property include:

  • The context and susceptibility of the property.
  • The design, selection and use of construction materials that are resistant to graffiti.
  • Surface protection.

The advice to designers is to consider using strong, wear resistant laminate, impervious glazed ceramics, treated masonry products, stainless steel materials, anti-graffiti paints, and clear over sprays to reduce opportunities for vandalism. Flat or porous finishes are to be avoided and where large walls are unavoidable, the use of barriers and/or an application of anti-graffiti treatments should be considered.

Rapid graffiti removal policies and the use of anti-graffiti coatings to prevent penetration into the substrate to facilitate the ease of removal of graffiti have been identified as the most effective means of combating graffiti. The graffiti resistance of exposed surfaces is a function of its susceptibility to penetration by the marking agent (e.g. aerosol spray paints) and its sensitivity to damage during cleaning. Hard, non-porous, impermeable, and smooth surfaces generally have a good graffiti resistance and cleanability. Permeable or porous surfaces are difficult to clean. Similarly, rough and heavily textured surfaces also pose cleaning difficulties. Resistant substrates such as hand glazed ceramic tiles, glass, polished stone, hard glazed brick and metals are recommended in high-risk areas. Protective anti-graffiti coatings are recommended where construction materials with lower graffiti resistant substrates are utilised such as concrete, sandstone, limestone, normal brick, timber, cement render and painted surfaces. These surfaces are difficult to clean, and repeated chemical and wet- abrasive blasting damages the surfaces and leaves unsightly markings.

Anti-graffiti coatings are recommended to be applied to exposed surfaces that utilise lower graffiti resistant substrates. These coatings create a protective barrier that makes it easier to remove graffiti. They come in both clear and pigmented varieties and are applied in two or more coats, with some available with a priming sealer. Anti-graffiti coatings are available in two types: permanent long-life coatings that provide a protective layer that can withstand repeated cleaning, and temporary or sacrificial coatings that are partially or fully removed during cleaning.

Useful standards include: AS 1580.408.5 (Adhesion), AS 1580.602.3 (Boller Test), AS 1627.1 (Cleaning), AS 1627.4 (Abrasive Blast Cleaning), AS 2311 (Painting of Buildings), AS 2700 (Standard Colours), and Australian Paint Approval Scheme (APAS) Specifications APAS 1441 (Permanent Graffiti Barrier), APAS 1442 (Temporary Graffiti Barrier and APAS 1443 (Graffiti Remover).