Find the hidden beauty of cities in “Geographies of Urban Form”

At a glance, the Student Gallery at the Ryerson Image Centre holds a series of prints that are difficult to fathom. Intertwined lines shrink, grow, and form structures through the images. They contrast against glossy black backgrounds, illuminated by the direct lighting of the small room.

Beneath the complexity of “Geographies of Urban Form” lie the hidden shapes of cities, visualized through geospatial patterns. The exhibit, created by William Davis and Michael Markieta, take viewers through the concealed beauty of road systems.

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William Davis

Davis, an alumnus of Ryerson’s Master’s of spatial analysis program and cartographer and data analyst at the Toronto Star, and Markieta, a creative data science professional, remember when inspiration hit. They were working with geographical data sets at the time. “I began realizing that not only could they be informative — but they could also be beautiful and sort of like an art form,” said Davis.

From that point on Davis and Markieta began the four-month-long process of interpreting data and stylizing images to create the art.

The pictures illustrate road systems minus physical barriers like mountains and rivers. Davis and Markieta show the formation of major cities, including London, New York City, Paris, Seoul and Toronto.  The maps are meant to challenge a viewer’s knowledge of the urban form of metropolises.

Differences in city structures are visible through the exhibit. Each print reflects on the evolution of cities through density and order. Davis describes the maps as “a way of visualizing open data in a creative way.”

Sara Angelucci, student gallery coordinator, is thrilled to be working with alumni from a different educational perspective. Markieta and Davis specialize in geography rather than the image arts Angelucci is used to. She stresses how much meaning can underlie these geographical creations.

“I’m stunningly surprised at how beautiful these very pragmatic, inspirational diagrams are. We want people to know our gallery has an open call for anyone on campus, to anyone working on something in a visual form,” Angelucci said.

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For an onlooker, such an intricate set of images look nearly impossible to create. The artists went through extensive planning to find the right programs and data to fit their needs. Davis says they used programs like OpenStreetMap to interpret the geographic data, and Adobe Illustrator to format the information.

Seoul stands out as a favourite to viewers. People walk into the gallery and pause, marvelling at the complexity of the bright lines intersecting across the page. While many of the other prints appear either completely frenzied or entirely structured, Seoul is a mixture of both.  Davis describes it as an image that is symmetrical, yet chaotic.

Onlookers also associate the maps with their own experiences. “People say, ‘Wow I’ve been to that city!’ So, there’s a strong emotional connection,” said Angelucci.

The exhibit is open from Oct. 14 to Nov. 8.

Photos by Yasmin Arnaout