MapCarte 327/365: Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum Visitor Map by L2M3 Kommunikationsdesign GmbH Stuttgart, 2008

MapCarte327_sachsenhausenMaps have incredible power to affect the way we perceive and feel about a place before, during, and after we experience it. Cartography really can change the way we see the world.

Located 22 miles (35 km) north of Berlin, the concentration camp complex at Sachsenhausen was designed and regarded by the SS (Schutzstaffel) as ‘ideal’. The infamous words ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (Work makes [you] free) are incorporated within its gates, through which 200,000 political prisoners – and eventually those regarded as ‘racially or biologically inferior’ – passed from 1936 to 1945. Sachsenhausen subsequently became a Soviet ‘Special Camp’, housing 60,000 inmates until 1950 and, after several years of neglect, was transformed into the Sachsenhausen National Memorial in 1961. Following the reunification of Germany, the site became the state-funded Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum in 1993 and today attracts around 400,000 visitors each year.

MapCarte327_sachsenhausen_detailAt first, the map itself may seem nothing special. But its power lies in its subtlety and simplicity, through its poignant and eerily clinical blend of dark red, greys and white. The map presents us with a cold, soulless landscape and invokes an attitude fit for entering a place that has borne witness to countless atrocities and felt the depths of human cruelty and systematic murder. We are not to regard this as any normal landscape; neither beautiful nor commodified, but barren and scarred.

The map therefore captures the uniquely strong sense of place with a perfectly muted aesthetic that aligns our expectations, encourages reverence, and in doing so re-educates our understanding of the expressive range of cartographic language.

MapCarte 326/365: The contiguous United States by distance to the nearest McDonalds by Stephen Von Worley, 2009

MapCarte326_mcdonaldsMaps are powerful ways to get a message across. Often it’s possible to state some fact to do with a spatial question or a theme but mapping it takes it to a whole different dimension. For instance, in 2009 Stephen Von Worley started thinking about the rise of the country strip mall in the United States and what it meant to the spatial identity of wilderness. In short, he asked himself a question: how far away can you get from our world of generic convenience? Well there’s no dataset that’s going to give you that straight answer so he used a proxy…and he set about mapping that proxy to show how far you can get from McDonald’s restaurants.

He decided McDonald’s was a good fit for the study because of the way in which it colonizes such centres and towns. The 13,000 restaurants mapped are the result. In design terms he could have simply positioned dots but he’s used distance symbolized by changing colour to show the closeness to a McDonalds (bright yellow), through reds to the darkness of what he calls the “McFarthest spot”; the real wilderness between McDonalds. You travel through red to get there…the blackness. Of course, he’s cleverly used McDonalds corporate colours and a non-too subtle use of black to connotate emptiness but it makes the map work well. It’s got a strong aesthetic and lacks the need for any additional description.

This is perhaps as close as you can get to a visual data dump but simple symbolization decisions and choices create an attention-grabbing and visually arresting image that speaks to the original question. It’s also worth pointing out the use of an appropriate projection that doesn’t distort shapes or areas. A small decision that makes the map visually accurate.

You can read more about the map on the Datapointed blog here.

MapCarte 325/365: Mount Everest Expedition by Major Henry Morsehead, 1921

MapCarte325_morseheadThe Great Trigonometrical Survey of India in 1856 established Mount Everest (known as Peak XV) as 29,002 ft (8,840m). The survey itself was incredibly accurate compared to the modern height of 29,029ft (8,848m). It was named Mount Everest by the Royal Geographical Society upon recommendation by the British Surveyor General of India, Andrew Waugh, who named it after the man he succeeded, Sir George Everest. It was nearly 100 years later, in 1953, when Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary made the first official ascent though debate continues to surround the possibility that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine may have reached the summit as part of the 1924 expedition. They made a final attempt on the summit on June 8th but disappeared in the clouds after being spotted high on the mountain. Mallory’s body was recovered in 1999 at a height of 26,755ft (8,155m). Surveys and maps of Everest were critical in the understanding of the mountainscape, the plotting of the various potential routes to the summit and the eventual success. The map made by Major Henry Morsehead as part of the 1921 expedition is arguably the finest early, detailed and complete map of the region.

MapCarte325_morsehead_detailThe 1921 expedition was in effect a reconnaissance by the British who reached an elevation of 22,970ft (7,000m) on the North Col after a 300 mile march. Nepal didn’t allow foreigners into the country so the British expeditions had to approach the region from the Tibetan side. The map clearly illustrates the divide between nations in the limit of the detail, with Everest being shown on the south edge of the detailed map. The impressive detail is wonderfully rendered with hand drawn hillshading in grey to identify slope and aspect. Darker shading shows higher areas and ridges are shown as if illuminated vertically. Water and glacial features are shown in a light alpine blue hue with only one further colour, red, used to show the different routes through the region. The map is a work of art in relief portrayal and clarity and a result of more than simply marching to Everest itself. This map required Morsehead and his team to explore the entire region in harsh conditions. They weren’t alone in their map-making endeavours with others in the team also undertaking photographic surveys, collecting specimens of flora and assessing the geological structure. Indeed, Alexander Heron’s Geological map is also impressive in its own right.

MapCarte325_heronDespite initial thoughts of using the 1921 expedition for a full assault on the summit, the trip was eventually led as reconnaissance. Before they had left the region, the Royal Geographic Society’s Mount Everest Committee had already established a subsequent expedition for the following year to go for the summit. The 1922 expedition used Morsehead’s map to push on via the North Ridge route to an elevation of 27,300ft (8,320m) which was the first time a human had climbed above 8,000m. It was also the first attempt on Everest that used bottled oxygen to counter the effects of elevation. George Mallory, who had taken part in the 1921 expedition, had discovered a potential route to the summit though on the third attempt seven porters died in an avalanche and the expedition abandoned. They had established a new record climbing height but the lure of the summit would have to wait.

To date over 4,000 different climbers have made nearly 7,000 summits. Some 250 people have died trying to climb Everest. Today’s climbers take modern equipment and digital maps yet for its time and, still, Morsehead’s map retains its status as a cartographic gem that supported early attempts on the summit.



MapCarte 324/365: 1:25,000 City plan of London by the Military Topographic Directorate of the Soviet Army, 1985

MapCarte324_sovietlondonIt’s not always the case that those closest to the geography are those that either make or use the maps. Plenty of examples of covert mapping operations litter history, particularly military history. During the Cold War, the Military Topographic Directorate of the Soviet Army General Staff conducted a secret global topographic mapping program on a vast scale. The true extent is yet to emerge, but the availability of global and regional map indexes together with map sheets at 1:15,000,000, 1:2,500,000, 1:1,000,000, 1:500,000, and 1:200,000 scales, with further territories (including areas within the British Isles) covered at 1:100,000 and 1:50,000 scales, suggests that this was probably the most comprehensive and systematic cartographic project ever undertaken.

In addition, the production of thousands of street plans of towns and cities around the world at large scales, such as 1:25,000, 1:15,000, 1:10,000, and 1:5,000, have come to light since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991. These include Paris, Berlin, Helsinki, Dublin, Vienna, New York, Los Angeles, Dakar, Luanda, and Cairo, and many others around the globe, all produced to standard specifications and using a variety of source material, including satellite imagery.

MapCarte324_sovietlondon_detailOver 90 towns and cities were mapped in the British Isles, including London, which is shown here. The plan comprises four sheets, which join together once the inner margins have been cut away. The astonishing level of detail includes the identification of strategically important buildings and their classification according to their use (e.g. military buildings shown in green, governmental and communications in purple, and military industrial as black). This extract lies at the centre of the four sheets and includes the Houses of Parliament (bottom left, in purple) and several of the city’s railway stations (in black). At a distance the maps might appear similar to the sort of standard topographic sheet you’d expect but the typographic detail makes plain the authorship.

The sources used to compile the detailed hydrography and the construction material of bridges and their height above water (which can be found on many of these plans) remain unknown and it is not unlikely that direct observation played a role. That so much geographical detail was mapped at a time when the obliteration of many of these cities seemed a real possibility is the paradox of the programme’s amazing legacy. Designed for a very specific purpose.

Executed with considerable expertise and care in the look, feel and accuracy of the finished product. Not bad for a map created on foreign soil without anyone’s knowledge.

MapCarte 323/365: Bathymetrical chart of the Oceans by John Murray, 1899

MapCarte323_murrayOcean exploration was a key scientific objective in the late 1800s. Any numbe rof oceanographic, biological, chemical, geological and physical discoveries had been made and one of the preeminent scientists was John Murray. The results of his voyages on H.M.S. Challenger led to this map, the first to make its focus the deeps, what occurs underneath the surface rather than previous voyages and explorations that were concerned with coastal and shallow waters. Murray recognised that measurement at depth required correct and operational instrumentation because it was indirect measurement that was required. Why was this necessary? Accurate survey of the ocean floor was paramount to the correct siting of telecommunications cables across the ocean basins. For that you needed an accurate map.

This map for the first time showed ‘the deeps’ according to Murray. The mid-atlantic ridge is clearly shown as are areas of the Atlantic Ocean that are greater than 3,000 fathoms deep. In many ways, Murray, the Challenger expeditions and this map were critical in the establishment of oceanography as a distinct branch of science.

MapCarte323_murray_detailMurray went beyond calculating bathymetry though, he estimated temperature of the ocean floor as distinct to the surface as well as the amount of light penetrating the darkness and the impact on flora and fauna and marine deposits. The map uses subtle bathymetric tinting and is the first to officially name many of the deep ocean floor troughs. It’s not a complex map but it’s apparent simplicity belies the efforts and science that went into making it.

Maps do not need to appear complex. They can be used effectively to communicate scientific discovery, accuracy and new knowledge. This map, for its time, was revolutionary and was the first to give us a sense of what lies beneath the surface of the vast expanse of seas and oceans.

Murray’s ground-breaking essay on The State of Ocean Science can be read here.

MapCarte 322/365: A new map of England and France by James Gillray, 1793

MapCarte322_gillrayMore satirical cartography in this MapCarte entry because maps are extremely powerful objects with which to convey a message designed to be politically charged or even propagandist. Here, James Gillray creates a caricature of England and its relationship with the rest of Europe, in particular showing disgust at nearest neighbours, France.

The map was created in 1793 amidst murmurings of impending French invasion as part of their wider revolutionary tendencies. How best to create a fervently patriotic show of distaste for invasion that is sure to increase sympathies to the ruling King and anti-French sentiment? Use a map! Gillray fits the shape of John Bull into the England and Wales. Bull, of course, is the stereotypical personification of England: a witty, jovial, stout matter-of-fact man. The French invasion of bum-boats is repelled by the defecating Bull from the ports of his ‘south coast’.

Even the French coastline is configured to look like a face with the stream of muck being thrown unceremoniously straight into the face itself. Gillray was a master of satirical caricatures and a commentator on political and social issues. This work captures the strength of feeling declared by King George III against the potential of a French invasion. Cartography as a vehicle for satire and commentary is indeed a powerful mechanism in the hands of a skilled craftsmen and although the sketch is merely that – a sketch rather than an accurate portrayal of topography – it needs no more than a general shape on which to hang the message.

MapCarte 321/365: Palm Springs Modern by Nat Reed, 2012

MapCarte321_reedWhen mapping a specific theme it’s often useful to create the map to reflect that theme; to make the map speak to the mapped phenomena and attract the map viewer with an object that does justice to the content. There’s little point creating a map of Palm Springs Mid-Century Modern architectural heritage in some nonsensical gothic style. It just wouldn’t work and your map loses credibility. Here, Nat Reed has captured the spirit of the 20th century Desert Modernism that found its home in Palm Springs.

The use of glass, clean lines, the combination of natural and manmade resources and the focus on indoor/outdoor spaces is what characterised this particular design aesthetic with the backdrop of the stunning desert landscape. The affluent clientele were a perfect audience for these visionary architects to let their creative juices run wild and they created notable buildings of almost every type. Today, Palm Springs remains vibrant but lives off much of its historical vibe, including the architecture. Nat Reed’s map evokes that spirit and reflects the design ideals inherent in the architecture.

MapCarte321_reed_detailThe map is heavily stylized in shape. Scale is abandoned and symbology is clean and angular (see the sun, cacti and big horn sheep for instance). The map captures the retro feel perfectly. Colours are bright and vibrant; the illustrations of the buildings cartoon-like yet also showing some of the essential character of each building. This is a fantasy map luring you to the fantasy land of Palm Springs and with at least an inspiration from early Disneyland maps. The grid structure of the streets holds the work together amongst the palm trees and other green foliage. There’s even an outer river or moat that seems to envelope Palm Springs making it appear even more like a fantastical island. With north to the right, the San Jacinto mountains are shown in aspect at the top of the map with the city laid out before them. The typographic elements are also in keeping with the overall theme.

Here is a modernist map that creates a perfect cartographic link to the theme being mapped.

More details of Reed’s map and other prints on his web site here.

MapCarte 320/365: Piri Re’is Map by Piri Re’is, 1513

MapCarte320_piriAfter the discovery of the Americas, numerous maps were made by the various sefaring nations of the period, most notably the Spanish and Portuguese. Possibly the most intriguing and, certainly, one of the most elegant maps was made not by the obvious cartographers but by a Turk, Piri Re’is. Only a portion of the map remains. At one point it would have included the whole world as seen by the Ottomans but only the western segment has survived. This alone, though, tells a remarkable cartographic story.

The map is significant as being the only 16th century map to display the Americas in its correct longitudinal position relative to Africa. As a portolan chart it is used predominantly for navigation. The coastal detail is impressive and the ocean is marked with numerous compass roses, rhumb lines (lines of constant bearing) and scale bars. The map is embellished with beautiful tall ships as well as many vignettes depicting indigenous people, flora and fauna, towns and settlements. The colours bring the map to life with careful shading of the coastline allowing it to stand proud in a visual sense and the use of red and blue alternating rhumb lines acting as spokes away fro the compass roses. Colour, generally, is well balanced, used sparingly but effectively as a differentiating tool.

MapCarte320_piri_detailThe labelling is particularly impressive and illustrates a compilation of collective knowledge derived from 20 maps used as sources. Maps from Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, Columbus and Portuguese explorers all played a part in the design of the map which reminds us that maps need not be entirely original. What is important, however, is to acknowledge the sources which this map does in its copious notes in the lower left.

The coastline of the Americas continues south and along the bottom. Could this be Antarctica or simply an artistic extension of the unknown southern tip of the Americas. Of course, it’s intriguing to wonder what the rest of the map might have looked like. Piri Re’is himself was a distinguished naval captain who rose to the post of Admiral of the Ottoman fleet. He won numerous battles and surveyed, mapped and wrote the famous Kitab-I Bahriye (Book of Navigation) in 1521. He was executed in 1553 for failing in his attempt to defeat the Portuguese in the Persian Gulf. He left a remarkable cartographic legacy with this map.

MapCarte 319/365: The Gallery of Maps by Ignazio Danti, 1550-1583

MapCarte319_vaticanWhat could be more carto-artistic than 40 painted map frescoes in a 120m gallery? The Vatican is home to The Gallery of Maps, a stunning set of large-scale paintings that showcase Italy through wonderfully rich and vibrant topographic maps. They were drawn by geographer Ignazio Danti as part of a Commission by Pope Gregory XIII in 1580. Others painted (literally by numbers) to fill in the detail.  It was simply designed as a way of decorating The Vatican. The 40 works took three years to complete and cover the whole of Italy as well as a range of panoramic views of major cities.

MapCarte319_vatican2The timing was ripe for maps to be considered an important element in scientific discovery as well as for decoration. The age of discovery had revealed new knowledge and scientific instrumentation such as the sextant, magnetic compass and telescope had improved accuracy of measurement. Mercator and Ortelius were making landmark world maps at around the same time. Pope Gregory XIII wanted The Vatican to join the cartographic revolution through this ambitious project.

MapCarte319_vatican3The maps are beautifully drawn and detailed. The large-scale paintings have a consistency that ensures they are seen as a set. The rich greens and blues for land and water create a beautiful palette that gives the hall a richness of colour. Terrain is well presented with detailed shading and the maps are full of ornate flourishes such as waves in the sea, cities, tents, boats and sea creatures. While many of these elements are totally out of scale compared to the backdrop map, they show a range of important scenes and the design supports the scale, size and purpose of the project as a gallery through which you walk en route to the Sistine Chapel.

MapCarte 318/365: Cassini Carte de France by César-François Cassini de Thury, 1788

MapCarte318_cassiniMapping entire countries is not for the feint-hearted. In 1744, Cassini prepared the first systematic, nationwide survey of a nation state, France. He was later commissioned to produce a more detailed map series to ultimately consist of 180 separate map sheets. This was not the work of a year or even a decade of preparation. This feat was the culmination of a century’s work by three generations of the Cassini family. Monumental in design and scope, Cassini’s map series was the result of scientific survey based on the triangulation of France which began in 1669 by his ancestors. By 1678 the Paris region had been mapped at a scale of 1:86,400. Various wars and other campaigns meant that surveying the remainder of France didn’t truly get going until 1733 when Cassini (strictly, Cassini III) recommenced the survey. Cassini’s map of 1744 laid out the traingulation of France but it required further surveys to fill in the map with topographic detail.

The new topographic map series, also at a scale of 1:86,400 began in 1748. It encompassed an 18-year plan with 10 maps to be published per year. The first two maps in the series took 8 years to be prepared yet they became the first properly surveyed, planimetrically accurate maps of a country. The level of detail was astonishing for the time and out-shone previous cartographic efforts by other European map-making dynasties. These maps immediately elevated France to the pinnacle of European cartographic excellence.

MapCarte318_cassinidetailThe map of Paris shown here was part of the second survey series. The detail and artistry is incomparable for the time. The use of colour highlights different land use types with a bright pink being used to show built up areas intersected by a generalized but highly detailed street network. Shadows are used throughout to emphasise different elements which raises them to create a pseudo-natural look and feel. This is particularly evident on the deep green forested areas which also contain a pattern fill. Topography is shown with shading and fine hachure abd shadows are also used to add depth to rivers, shown in blue. The typography is beautifully applied and pictorial symbols finish off the detail showing the positions of churches and other landmarks.

This is a key map in the history of cartographic design. Accurate and beautiful. Form and function.