Maps are some of the most graphically beautiful tools that we have. An old hand-colored, copperplate engraved map from one of Cpt. Cook’s exploratory expeditions is a perfect blend of art and science, romanticism and reality. Both graphically and technologically, cartography has advanced, though. Think of Harry Beck’s London Underground map and Google Earth. In the process of mapping the context for a Copenhagen railway station revamp, I wanted precedents that were more schematic than the latter, but less ubiquitous than the former. What I found was refreshing in a time where satellite imagery and narrated navigation is the bow of the field that made its greatest advances on wooden ships.
Instead of reading like instruction manuals, some contemporary maps I found read like stories you look forward to spending hours in an armchair with. While technological advancement in cartography and those maps that do provide a world’s-worth of quantitative information are invaluable (and beautiful, too), it is nice to know that a map can still provide just the set of info most people need through well-done graphic communication. A neon colored, computer rendered map in a tube under a city can still present the beauty and exploratory romanticism of an 18th century expedition map. And it will tell you where to get off to get to that bagel store in the Upper West Side.