Skylines to Scale: Yoni Alter Talks Shapes of Cities

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A skyline can be the most easily recognizable visual characteristic of a city, though this is typically the result of a handful of architectural icons that accent, if not dominate, the respective cluster of structures: The Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, Burj Khalifa, to name but a few.

But no matter the city, it is next to impossible for a skyline to be understood in terms of how all the components compare to one another. A skyline is a whole, but that whole makes it very hard to understand scale in terms of all the structures that comprise the skyline. London-based artist Yoni Alter has been working on a project that features some of the prominent architectural features of a city at scale, making for informative and eye-catching graphics. Alter was kind enough to answer a few questions via email about his Shapes of Cities project.

Detail of London screen print. All images courtesy of Yoni Alter

Detail of London screen print. All images courtesy of Yoni Alter

What was the inspiration for the Shapes of Cities project?

The idea to came to me while walking in Hyde Park. From a certain point you can see the round London Eye intersecting with the triangular Shard. If you turn your head a bit to the left, you see the pillar, which is the BT Tower. This view gave me the idea to test the visual relationships between the shapes and scales of the different London architectural icons.

In a different piece inspired by the London Olympics, and showing a celebration of the world coming together, I experimented with overlaying different colored flags’ shapes in order to blur the distinction between nations and weave them together.


So I decided to try a similar treatment to a different set of iconic shapes. This allowed me to present the buildings and landmarks clustered together rather than next to each other as you’d normally see.

The design of the overlapping colors lent itself to some screen-print overprinting. We used eight spot colors for the screen prints and got all the rest by using different overprinting combinations. I also experimented with cutting shapes of colored translucent Perspex to achieve the overlapping colors effect.

New York

How do you design these pieces? What are the source images?

After picking a city’s interesting architecture, I source different images and 3D drawings for each shape and compare them in order to achieve the most accurate representation of the real thing. A lot is available to find online but sometimes I need to reach out to different authorities.

When I started, I was a bit skeptical that I’d get satisfying compositing but it turned out that cities are made up of much more interesting shapes than I thought.

I instinctively color and position each shape used in a layout. Then I start duplicating the layout, move things around and apply different colors. I stop making layout variations when I see that I‘m repeating the ones I already got. In many cases the first version is the winning one.

Do you visit all the cities?

I wish! I was fortunate to visit a few. I love exploring new cities and in a way I explore them every time I work on a new addition to the series. No city so far failed to contribute something new to the series.

My latest addition is Seattle. The Rainier Tower is the first shape in the series with a narrow base. I get the kick out of things like that. Boston’s got a similar shape only flipped – The Hood Milk Bottle. I love the fact that the series includes tiny objects like a milk bottle, a bean, a star, and clothespin.


How do you think your project differs from other projects dedicated to cities’ skylines?

I live in London and keep seeing London skyline graphics and illustrations in different ads in magazines and such. They don’t even bother to try and get the proportions right, usually reducing or even eliminating the size differences. You might as well draw The Shard circular if you don’t bother implying its size in comparison to the rest of London’s skyline.


What’s next?

I keep adding more cities to the series. I’m also looking at turning the project into a playful iPad app, which will also allow comparisons of different structures from different cities. Give a shout if you’re a developer who’d like to collaborate!