Highland Centre Avenue
Design Studio Project
Part 1: First Emotional Impression
The moment I arrived at the Highland Avenue Centre Avenue, I momentarily paused at the intersection of the crossroad. Not because it was so beautiful, but just the warm American street vibe and the random assortment of buildings naturally grabbed my attention. It was my first time downtown in Pittsburgh, and the strange foreign atmosphere continued to embrace me wherever I turned.
Walking across the street, my design buddies and I sat down right in front of the First National Bank. The roads looked like a never-ending X, where cars continuously zigzagged here and there. I especially loved quietly observing the pedestrians walk into different stores or just simply lean against the wall. One man was walking an adorable dog until it decided to pee against the sign, and I couldn’t stop laughing as they got into a brief hassle.
The most unique part about this place was the odd placement of a gothic looking church behind all the food shops and restaurants across from us. The majestic lofty looking church contrasted with the rest of the orderly, geometrical structures below, and I found myself continuously glancing at it from time to time. The gothic church and the buildings looked strangely isolated with their fanciful designs, and yet tranquil amidst the moving clouds. Likewise, the entire side in front of us reminded me of a village from a picture book, particularly the way the street lamp stood tall and crooked. But behind us, the scene was much more in order—the First National bank and T Mobile Shop stood static and grandiose with their polished walls and mirrors.
Overall, the mood I gained from the street was a quiet but peaceful one. The contrast between the ornate church and the geometrically aligned stores on the front added on to the peaceful hollowness I felt within the space.
One incident did happen to us at an unexpected time. An elderly African American man with a cane came right up to me after crossing the road. He asked, “Which school are you guys from?” When I replied Carnegie Mellon, he then immediately questioned, “Is that a liberal or a conservative school?” Taken back by this brusque inquiry, I honestly told him that I didn’t know.
“Stop lying. If you guys are liberal, then you guys are all a bunch of shit,” he yelled, coming right up to my face.
I was completely stunned, my heart pounding unstoppably. I waited for him to finish talking, praying he won’t attack us with that cane. After swearing a few more times, he walked away behind us. But once more, he suddenly turned around, and literally screamed from the top of his lungs, “Carnegie Mellon is full of shit! You guys are all shit!”
This was truly an appalling experience I’ll honestly never forget. It has never happened to me before, and once this occurred, the environment approached me in a different light. Although it was only a single man, at that moment, I felt the entire crosswalk even more deathly silent and still. I could sense that even my teammates were frozen, hesitant to respond.
Highland Avenue Centre Avenue now speaks to me with a variety of emotions—peaceful, quiet, but also spontaneous. I wonder how it would feel when I come back here during the dawn or even at night.
Part 2: Observations 9/1 (9:30AM)
Going back to the highland the second time, I noticed even more subtle details in the Highland Avenue Centre Avenue that didn’t originally come into my mind. During my first time around, I focused heavily on my emotional connection within the place; however, this time, I found myself searching for unique architectural structures and details surrounding the buildings. With my group members we took a tour around all four zones of our place.
Composition 1 Draft
Goal: Capturing the unique juxtaposition between the gothic church and modern looking buildings through simple shapes.
The critique triggered several questions in my mind regarding communication and intent. Rethinking about the design choices I made, here are some questions that immediately emerged.
- Is the composition of this piece working? (The centered layout is effective in directing the eyes toward the church, which was my original intent. However, I wonder if there are other more unique, interesting compositions that could still lead our eyes toward the church that contrast with the neighboring buildings).
- What is the focal point of my piece? What title would you give to this? How would you describe it? Do you think it’s interesting?
- Change the layering of papers— instead of attaching the windows on top of the walls, cut them out. Experiment with thickness more by adding more layers (right now, the piece still looks very flat).
- Be cautious of the overall craftsmanship. Particularly the headlights look crooked and messy with the torn up edges.
- How can I add more details on to the church without being too excessive? Right now, I feel the layout is too simple without much movement.
Part 3: Third Time back to the intersection (9/7)
The purpose of going back was to be more experimental and take more photos with diverse compositions. I still wanted to focus on the juxtaposition between the church and the mini stores but with greater depth than my previous layout.
White on White Composition Draft 2
The left photo was the failed attempt. I didn’t really consider which areas needed layering (relief), and I found myself overlapping papers in an un organized way. I was also confused at which parts would have to go at the very back, and so forth. But unlike last time, I changed the form of the church by only adding the pillars, instead of adding all the elaborate details like windows, arches, etc. I simplified the structures so that they could be understood more clearly.
- Better craftsmanship (The simpler the overall layout becomes, the more critical the craftsmanship becomes)
- The street below looks unnatural → it looks as if the building is floating in midair, due to the layers overlapped below.
- Are the chimmneys and buildings behind the front stores really necessary? They don’t really look realistic and rather flat.
- Is the church design too simple? Or would more details only make the church look cluttered?
- Are the buildings on the front oversimplified? → I asked students about their first impressions on the buildings, and luckily they were able to figure out that they were small stores.
Part 4: Gray Scale Composition
Goal: Translate the white composition into grayscale values in a purposeful coding system. Try to portray the hollow but peaceful mood through the gray scale colors.
- Quick gray scale values sketch: I first created several grayscale samples with markers after scanning the white on white compositions. However, I found that copic markers were a little challenging to imagine how the real piece would look on brown papers; also, the two tone gray colors did not show as strong of a contrast as I hoped. Still, this was effective in creating a basic sketch on where my darkest and lightest colors would be.
2. Illustrator process: After the gray scale composition, I transferred them into illustrator in order to accurately portray the brown values. This method allowed me to really visualize the final outcome, especially with its precision of lines and colors.
I quickly eliminated the two compositions above. While the dark sky really accentuated the church, it was not very realistic, as if the church was glowing like a diamond during the night (as one student told me). The second one was the least effective in depicting the church as it got merged with the background. As a result, I decided to make my decisions with the last two. While the middle tone still made the church visible, it also created a tranquil, quiet atmosphere, which was part of my intent. Making the streets and windows into the darkest colors further emphasized the contrast between the church and the upfront stores. However, in the last stage, I decided to remove the street lines and changed the church windows into white to create more contrast between the church and the front buildings. When I asked other students about these little details, they all stated that they looked pretty much unnecessary, and were only distractions to their eyes.
Part 5: Color Composition
Goal: Change one value from the grayscale composition with a different color in a meaningful way.
Once again, I decided to utilize illustrator to visualize my work in a more effective and precise way.
The shades of blue and dark mustard yellow caught my attention the most, because they both seemed to carry a moody, peaceful vibe. However, I felt that the yellow could be slightly distracting as it popped out more than I expected, which clashed against the white church. Particularly, in the last compostion, it seemed to accentuate the window details on the front rather than the overall building. As a result, I decided to choose the dark blue composition. The dark blue created greater weight on the bottom and the dark shades, which allowed the church and the buildings to show up, and it also seemed to carry the hollow mood.
Reflection from the project (9/19)
This project was valuable in learning how to re-interpret and convey an environment’s space and mood. After listening to the students’ critiques, I felt what worked well for my piece was the overall atmosphere that I had wished to convey. Whenever I asked the students how they felt when looking at my piece, they used descriptive words such as “placid, quiet, still, and empty.” According to them, this sense of emptiness was represented through the hollow geometrical windows that were aligned along the building walls. The deep navy blue color further lended a subdued and tranquil mood that added weight on the bottom, which contrasted to the church above. I attempted to create my compositions with a minimal concept, while still providing enough information to the readers.
Beside the mood of the intersection, I had also hoped to depict the unique juxtapositon between the ornate elaborate church versus the more modern buildings on the front. But with the large area of dark navy color underneath, the mood was clearly overpowering. As the professors had remarked, I may have attempted to portray too much by using just a single color. Rather, the array of buildings on the front may have embodied certain details that could express the structure in a clearer way. For instance, the middle building could have been shaped differently to show the small patio, rather than having it all merged into one. I also wonder how much the composition would have changed if I added more cars and people along the street. Would that still preserve the bare and tranquil mood of the intersection, or would that only create a distraction?
Still, I personally feel that the simplicity of the composition and building structures conveyed my foremost intention—expressing the silent but peaceful mood of the intersection.