Millvale + Liberty


Approaching the intersection from the bus stop down the street, my eyes were immediately drawn to the 4 towering traffic signs that dominated the street.

From a distance the poles almost appeared to be made from wood, but closer inspection revealed a chipped and rusted metal surface which was presumably once painted white and yellow.

Interestingly these poles served 4 purposes at once, holding up traffic lights, power lines, light posts, and street signs. I don’t know which function these poles served first, but the newer looking traffic signals suggest that they were recently installed or replaced.

As I took my time to take in my surroundings on the street corner, I was struck by the contrast between the buildings on the opposite sides of Liberty Avenue.

On one side, a number of buildings clustered close together, squeezing a mish-mash of building styles and businesses into a small space. From the intersection outwards, the buildings housed a hotdog/burger restaurant, a massage therapist, for lease building, and florist.

The posters and sidewalks covered in grates and an amalgamation of concrete and asphalt patches gave the overall impression of age and disorder.

Meanwhile the other side of the street was dominated by the Allegheny Hospital and its corresponding parking garage. In comparison, the buildings and their sidewalks were characterized by their orderly nature and cleanliness.

The streets were paved with bricks and had trees spaced in between. Also, street lamps in a consistent style were spaced in between.

Similarly, in contrast to the scraggly vegetation between the concrete slabs on the other side of the street, this side included planned flower patches.


Leaving class last Wednesday, there were three things that decided to explore going back to the intersection again: the interactions between people and the intersection, the relationships between each of the intersection’s corners, and the taking more deliberate photos.

I arrived at the intersection around 1pm and spent around half an hour taking note of the people who passed through the intersection.

I identified 6 of the most common groups of pedestrians:

  • Hospital Workers — nurses and doctors.
  • Runners
  • Families/children
  • People buying groceries.
  • Students
  • Bikers

I also made a note of the most common routes that these groups of people and speculated on the reasons why they took them:

  • Hospital workers appeared to travel the most on the sidewalks adjacent to the hospital itself and its parking lot.
  • Runners most commonly ran along Liberty Avenue. This might be because S Millvale leads into largely residential districts on both sides and runners are less likely to live in those blocks because they travel farther.
  • Families most commonly walked along S Millvale Avenue. This might be the inverse case of runners. Families with children might be limited in the distance they are willing to travel, increasing the likelihood they live in the adjacent blocks.
  • People buying groceries travel the most along Liberty Avenue. This might be because all the shops and restaurants in the area line Liberty Avenue. I’m not as confident about this explanation, however, because I did not see many shoppers actually enter the shops within view of the intersection.
  • Students generally had a more uniform distribution pattern, however, I may not be especially accurate at identifying students.
  • Bikers also had a more uniform distribution, although they tended to travel along Liberty Avenue more often.

I also attempted to capture the differences in the 4 blocks that met at the intersection.

At the intersection, one side of Liberty Avenue was dominated by the Hospital and its associated buildings.

Main Hospital Building (left) and Hospital Parking Garage (Right)

The buildings on the Hospital side of the Liberty Avenue towered over the buildings on the opposite side, as captured in the next 4 photos. They also appear newer and are cleaner and better maintained, along with the respective sidewalks.

In contrast to the last time I visited the intersection, I tried to pay more attention to how I shot my photos. I payed more attention to the composition and tried to tell a story.


In the process of converting a photograph of my intersection into a 2D White on white paper representation, I kept four questions in mind:

  • What should people know about the area? What did you see, hear, feel, etc.?

There are 3 distinct areas that meet at the intersection — a hospital, shopping district, and a bank/residential area. I wanted to be able to portray each section in a single picture and capture the unique architecture and feeling of each section.

  • How might you effectively describe the place in a single photograph?

In order to capture all the sections in a single photo, I found a high angle from the hospital’s parking garage that was able to capture everything in a single photo. The tradeoff was that many of the unique details of the intersection were not visible, however, I decided that the dramatic angle and being able to see every section was worth the cost.

• How might you translate your photo into shapes that still tell your story well?

I focused on the differences in the shapes of each building since everything else was too far away to capture. The bank and residential buildings were relatively low and layered, the shops consisted of 3–4 story boxy buildings spaced close together, and the hospital was made of large, imposing, brick buildings.

I stacked layers of paper to add depth to the piece, the closer buildings have more layers and and cast more dramatic shadows.

I also scratched in finer details with an Olfa knife to capture more important details.

• How might you use a little bit of color to better describe the area?

We were not allowed to use color in out pieces themselves, but the semi-transparency of the paper allows the glow from a light table to give the piece a different tint.


Reflecting on my previous experience attempting to capture my intersection in a white on white piece, I realized I had made a few mistakes:

  • I had chosen the wrong type of paper. The charcoal paper was too thin and had a yellowish tint, softening the shadows and making the shapes invisible from a distance.
  • I had chosen a photograph that zoomed too far out, obscuring some of the characteristics that I felt were essential to the intersection’s character.

My previous decision to use a zoomed out picture was a result of my attempt to capture all the characteristics of all three distinct sections of the intersection, which were not visible all at once from street level.

However, I found afterwards that the simplification of the white on white process erased the few distinct features that remained after zooming out. As a result, for my redo, I decided to go back and capture a photo that at least presented two sections of the intersection and contrasted them.

I believe this image effectively contrasts the clean and orderly character of the hospital with the individualistic row of shops on the opposite side of the street, indicated with the “florist” sign.

In order to create the impression of depth, I identified the key features I needed to have for the image to be readable and tell a story then divided them into stacking layers.

Translated into the white on white format, this is the result:

While I decided not to render every detail of the photograph, I sought to focus on the details I believed were the most important, namely the “florist sign” and the orderly openings of the hospital garage. I believe that by selectively choosing what detail to render and drawing attention to those details, I would be able to better emphasize the dynamic of the intersection.


This version of the project focused on the addition of 4 tones of paper to work with. I chose to use these tones by using them as an alternate way to express depth in my intersection. I kept the technique of layering paper to create more dramatic shadows for closer objects, however, I also used the contrast between the darkest value and the remaining values to draw attention to certain aspects of the intersection as well.

I began my process by re-evaluating the layers I would create and creating a digital version in photoshop.

Photo with shape simplifying and black and white filter.

First, I tried a different approach by putting my picture through a shape simplifying then black and white filter:

Paper tones

I then scanned in the different tones of the paper to get a more accurate view of what my final product would look like.

Finally, I traced the pieces I felt were important to readability and the story and filled them in with the scanned in colors.

Cutting out the pieces from the toned paper, my initial result looked pretty similar to the photoshop version:

However, I hadn’t captured the clouds in the sky or the cracks in the sidewalk, which I felt would lend a more dramatic sense of perspective to the piece.

Unfortunately, after a series of experiments, I ended up deciding that the methods I tested to make clouds and cracks detracted more then they added to the work.


In this iteration of the assignment, we were given the option to choose one color from a selection of choices to add to a new version of our intersection.

Returning to the original story I tried to convey through my photograph, I decided that the elements I wanted to highlight were the hospital parking garage and the “FLORIST” shop front.

Constructing these elements the previous iteration, I felt a need for a tone in between the darkest two tones of the brown-scale, so immediately I eliminated the lime green, bright yellow, sky blue, and orange from my consideration.

Returning to my previous photoshop mockup, I started playing around with the colors, replacing the brown tones with color.

Now that I had narrowed down the colors I was considering down to these five colors, I next considered the which color would best capture the feeling of my intersection.

The first color I considered was red due to its association with hospitals and the Red Cross. However, I felt that this meaning was not clear and the effect produced was too menacing.

I further narrowed it down to the olive green and mustard yellow. Ultimately, however, I decided that the mustard yellow fit the best because the shade conveyed the grit and dustiness of the intersection and fit with the brown-scale tones.

I also wanted to resolve some of the previous problems with my template that carried over from my previous brown-scale version, namely, the ambiguity of the mass that was the bush blending into the “FLORIST” storefront and the similar ambiguity of the closest car.

In an attempt make the closest car more readable, I tried to identify the most important aspects, highlighting the window, wheels, roof, and side.

I also used the mustard yellow to my advantage to add detailing to the side of the “FLORIST” building and make a greater distinction between the plant, the side of the building, and the pot.

I also switched to tone of “FLORIST” from the bright glaring sky tone to the more subdued sidewalk tone, allowing the rest of the intersection to better draw the attention of the viewer.

The final step was the actual construction process of this iteration:

During the construction process I decided to return to some of the techniques I learned from the white on white and brown-scale iterations:

I progressively layered everything in the piece so that the closest objects created the darkest shadows.

I layered layers of the same tone and didn’t just rely on tone difference to create depth.

The final product:



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store