Design: Observing and Capturing the Intersection of Centre Ave and S Highland Ave

(8/30) My design class at Carnegie Mellon has been assigned to write about, photograph, and create relief sculptures based on an intersection in Pittsburgh — The idea is to capture and communicate the personality of the space without losing sight of our piece’s character.

(8/31) Today I visited the intersection. My observations are as follows:

In Pittsburgh, the avenues of Centre and S Highland converge in Shadyside, a neighborhood punctuated with upscale restaurants and boutiques. This intersection is a blend of things both old and new. This is no better exemplified by the oxymoronic First National Bank that sits on the corner. While it flaunts obvious turn-of-the-century architecture, its interior has been renovated and updated to match the modernity of the First National Bank’s brand. Similarly, the Patron Mexican Grill is nestled in between the two streets and mimics the face of the Flatiron Building in Manhattan (early 20th-century architecture), yet the restaurant is a modern take-out grill.

A view of the Patron Mexican Grill
The First National Bank’s 20th-century facade juxtaposed with another building’s modern architecture
More incongruity of traditional architecture and the twenty-first-century

This intersection is not densely traveled by pedistrians. I only managed to see a few people walking on the sidewalks as they went through the area.

Pedestrians in the area

The intersection is lightly manicured; a few trees and plants mottle the scene with shades of green. They help the space seem less industrial, but do not outstrip the presence of the heavy and loud buildings in the background.

This feeble tree hardly offers any escape from the urban-encompassed block into nature

The ambience of this intersection could be described as:

  • Busy, but only as a passing thought The intersection serves more as a busy intersection than it does function as a point where a bustling, vibrant part of the city meets.
  • Competing The different types of architecture in the area are disjointed and the styles compete with one another. There is not a smooth transition between classic architecture and modernity.
  • Quaint Boutiques, small buildings, and local restaurants contribute to the humility of this space.
  • Well-kept This area is clean — it has no litter and has nicely kept sidewalks and roads.
  • Serving those with higher income brackets People who can afford to shop and go out to eat come to this part of Shadyside.

(9/8) After a week of observation, I am currently in the process of creating a paper relief sculpture using only white paper.

Preliminary sketch for planning (failed)

From my first attempt at doing this project I learned not only how to use an x-acto knife (a feat for someone with no experience with sculpting or paper work), but also how objects and lines can communicate different ideas. For instance, because I did not include most of the street or even oncoming traffic in my first attempt, I did not clearly convey the idea that the cars are moving. Instead, they look stagnant and parked. In addition, the cars made up one shape. Although it had enough form to convey that it was a line of cars, it was hard to discern which car was which — another thing that made the idea of movement hard to grab.

(9/20) My class has wrapped up our projects, and I have learned that I am surprisingly incompetent when it comes to cutting out paper with an x-acto knife. Like, really incompetent — I cut myself three times with it and had to do a walk of shame to the First Aid kit because I was the first one of us to break skin. So when I say my blood and sweat went into making my project, it is far from an exaggeration.

If I could redo my project over again completely from scratch, I would do it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, though, I have hardly any time to even make minor adjustments on my existing pieces. It took me five hours just to make my simplistic shapes. Adding the detail I want would be more time-consuming, but I would give it another shot if I could for the sake of my own dignity.

My final project in all of its shoddy glory…
…And its equally shoddy counterpart