Topographic Textures | Burdett Assistantship 2018

Materials: High-Density Polystyrene Foam, Urethane Trim Enamel Paint, Epoxy Resin, Plywood


Awarded the 2018 Burdett Assistantship alongside  Gargi Lagvankar , Topographic Textures researches the power of water to sculpt landscapes in the context of the three rivers of Pittsburgh, which have had great effect on the development of the city. The project documents the evolution of the river systems in relation to urban development as Pittsburgh evolves from a manufacturing hub into a knowledge city. The hydrology, geology and and human geography of Pittsburgh are closely linked, and the research exposes these latent connections through historical and architectural analysis. The first part of the project included traveling along the three rivers to regions such as Potters County, Cincinnati, and Fairmont in order to document and compare changing river relations: Mouth (of the Allegheny) - Confluence (of the Ohio) - Bifurcation (of the Monongahela).  Through our travels, opinions of river locals were recorded and archives searched for historic documentation of man's evolving relationship with each of the rivers.

In order to share our findings with different entities across the city and the wider public, a public exhibition was organized and curated. The exhibit featured collages, postcards, and newspaper clips on Pittsburgh’s development in relation to its topography and three rivers, as part of Pittsburgh's monthly Unblurred Gallery Crawl.  The opening event also featured live painting of a topographic model of Pittsburgh to encourage public interaction and discourse on the man-made divides of city neighborhoods versus its natural configuration.  Many viewers had never considered the wider reaches of the three rivers, and almost none had ever seen the entire city of Pittsburgh from a three-dimensional topographic view.

The culmination of the research project was the fabrication of a 1/300-scale topographic map of Pittsburgh.  Taking the place of an outdated Nolli Map in the stairwell of the College of Fine Arts building on Carnegie Mellon's campus, the map showcases the topographic nature of the city alongside its three rivers and neighborhood divides.  The map measures 120" x 150", and is made of CNC-ed high-density polystyrene foam spray painted with Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel and cast with epoxy resin for the rivers.