Communicative Shapes

This is my first project for my freshman Design Studio at Carnegie Mellon. With this project we had the goal to “really ‘see’ the city, expand our notion of what is design, and learn how it defines people, places, and things.” The project broke down into 3 main “steps”: take photos of your intersection that capture the space, write about what you see, and then translate that one photo into a 2D composition through layers of cut paper in white, grayscale and grayscale with a color spot.

At my intersection of Centre and S Highland Ave you not only find an intersection of cars and businesses, but also an intersection of different economic standings. The intersection is a busy one, with constant traffic streaming through every direction. There is a steady stream of walkers as well in the area. The cars tended to be newer and in good shape and the walkers tended to be more middle aged or on the younger side of that range, no one very old. There was not one demographic dominating the area racially or economically (from what one could tell from the clothing worn and cars driven).

The intersection is home to many shops and restaurants packed in, which is both a mix of individual and chain owned establishments. The smaller individual businesses tended to be in older buildings which were not as well kept as those of the bigger chains, which were modern buildings or refurbished older ones. With this we can tell that while bigger places have committed to investing spaces in this area (suggesting there is a strong shopping crowd to cater to), there are also smaller and less profitable businesses around who can’t necessarily pay to continuously refurbish and maintain the older buildings. The older style architecture and brick facades reveal the old age of these buildings and the crumbling rock and graffiti show the lower level of maintenance compared to the all glass modern building across the street owned by T-Mobile and even the well preserved older building that the First National Bank resides in. A church not to far down S Highland stands proud on a large lot with no effect of time visible, which while suggesting there is a strong Christian community around also shows that they are among those with more money on the block. One can also notice at a glance that the streets in front of the smaller businesses appear to be scattered with litter while those in front of major businesses remain clear, perhaps coincidence, but perhaps suggesting the kind of people who go into those smaller businesses don’t care about the environment around them and also that those businesses don’t have the time/money to keep them clean.

Regardless of the money the individual businesses here pay for upkeep, it is clear the city has invested a fair amount of money into this site. This can be seen through the decorative foliage around the block and the quality of the road and pavement throughout the intersection, no huge potholes to be found and unchipped road lines. Several trash cans and a few recycling bins can also found on the block, with no overflow, suggesting they’re regularly emptied. Still though, dead grass and droopy plants can still be noticed throughout the block, showing that although there was good intent and faith in the high traffic of the shopping area, there isn’t the money to constantly keep things living and looking lush. In general, the crossing gives a nice feeling, but upon closer inspection you can tell that perhaps the care isn’t 100% there.

The project I referenced my process from; this is a recreation of a scene from Wes Anderson’sGrand Budapest Hotel.”

Upon approaching the assignment of creating an all white cut out of my intersection, my first thought is to go for the image that is most identifiable to the space while still being a good composition. This led me to choose the above image with the bus featuring a unique pie shaped building. I thought this photo created an interesting and dynamic composition with the intersection lines. I approached the cutouts similarly to a project I’d previously done in which I created a plaster relief. The process of making the mold felt very similar to what we were assigned to do, so I started out creating layers, starting with the background and working toward the foreground, cutting away the outline of the next layer and any details such as windows.

My first iteration for this project

Upon completion of this first rendition I was proud of the understanding of the space and perspective, but definitely felt upon comparison to my fellow classmates’ work that details such as the amount of layers in some places like the lampposts and front sidewalk felt awkward. The space between the top and bottom I left for the road also felt like an odd separation that created two different images as well as made it hard to read as a road.

After a chat with one of my TA’s I made the decision to change my photo to one that spoke more to the space I originally described: one lost in a mix of money and care, old and new. With my new image I was also able to better showcase the mix of architecture as well as the hustle and bustle that goes on in this intersection.

My new reference image.

With this second iteration I worked out a plan to make sure I had fewer layers, playing on the illusion of things being in different planes while still being a part of the same layer, such as the light post and tree on the right; I wanted to incorporate the idea talked about during critique to find a balance between too subtle and too pronounced. I also made the decision to change some building lines to make buildings read as separate (i.e. the back white building’s roof line). I tried to generally improve my craft with this iteration by using a ruler to cut off any lines that I could and taking the curved ones I couldn’t, a lot slower.

My second iteration.
My second iteration, and final white version, mounted.

With this second iteration I was (in general) very happy with the result. From feedback I got, the impression of a busy retail street did come across and the differences in architecture are significant enough to recognize that they are built with differing materials, if not at different times. Going into the grayscale version I knew I might need to play with a few details such as the wall line of the front left building and whether or not/how to make that defined and not blend into the sidewalk. I was concerned with the skyline and its separation from the road line in the back center between the distant cars, but a solution I decided to play with if it becomes and issue was to create a slit or indent rather than a whole new layer.

To further develop the representation of this space we began making a grayscale version of the intersection. I approached the organization of the four shades by playing around with the placement in Photoshop. I new that to help create the illusion of depth it was better to have dark colors in the foreground and lighter colors in the background, hence the white being the back most environment and the dark gray/black being close features such as the man and cars. I also approached this color blocking with the layers I cut for the first one still in mind, hence the blocking follows a similar pattern to the different layers of white paper in the second iteration.

The color trials I dd with the white background.

Upon execution of the process I got a little thrown off, accidentally starting the back couple of layers a shade lighter than I had originally planned, so once I worked my way back to the sky (the last layer I did because of its simplicity), I was forced to look at my last two options to use the white paper like the first and second iteration or the dark brown color. I found that the white background washed things out and placing just the man as the darkest point added a focus I didn’t want, so I went with the darker version that you see on top in the photo below. I enjoyed the high contrast and thought that although it didn’t add anything to the perspective, it made it a more appealing piece to look at than the washed out versions.

My third iteration on top and my second on the bottom.

Feedback for this piece just reflected on the choice of the dark brown as the background flattening out the image and making it more static. Someone brought up the idea that it appeared to look like a photo negative, suggesting that the inverse would make more sense perspectively.

My trials for the redo grayscale done in Photoshop.

Before approaching the last version of this relief cutout, I knew I wanted to figure out the color layout for the grayscale to go off of, so I once agin took to Photoshop to try out some color blocking. After seeing everyone else’s grayscale at critique, I knew I wanted to play more with the layers I had created and play a bit with the building shadow on the back building to accentuate the angle. I took my first grayscale trial into photoshop and played again with color placement to really accentuate perspective this time as well as to create a reference version that included the colors I was working with to avoid confusion. I finally settled on the layout below.

My reference for the grayscale redo.
Our given color options for the color spotting

I then could play around for a color spotting version by replacing tones for the different spot colors we had been given (seen to your left). After seeing the extreme boldness of replacing the extreme light and dark tomes in the palette I came to the decision to replace one of the middle tones with a similarly toned color to create contrast without it being distracting. After all, this wasn’t an obnoxiously loud and powerful space, there was some softness to it. I then decided upon the accent of the two (the darker leaning one) and proceeded to decide on the right color. After playing around with a couple of the similarly toned colors in the mid tan spot, I found the chartreuse to be the right touch of “loud” without being as obnoxious as I found the red to be.

A few of the better color trials.
A rough digital interpretation of my color decision for the color spotting iteration. The chartreuse appeared more yellow in photoshop than in real life.

Finally I was able to bring both of these digital versions to life.

The final versions of the color spot iteration and the grayscale.

During the critique for the color spotting iteration I got positive response to the color that I chose to accent and heard an almost relay of what I had intended which was to show a busy retail intersection with a mix of old and new building styles. Although I didn’t have my final grayscale version critiqued, I felt confident with the response from the color spotting that the space would read well with the brown tone being similar to the chartreuse and didn’t hesitate with the follow through there. Finally I was able to compile the final pieces into one composition to show the proggression I had gone through. I am overall happy with the result of this project and I feel confident in saying that I captured the feeling of this space while creating pleasing compositions with simplified forms.

The final compilation of the all white, grayscale and color spot versions.
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