Physical models, for instance in the form of globes and vacuum-formed raised relief vinyl maps have been staple ways to depict the world for centuries. They bring a three-dimensional quality to the map that allows us to more clearly see how a landscape looks. They bring a tactile quality to the map that a planimetric sheet cannot quite match. Such maps are also extremely popular as artistic objects; objects to adorn a home and be appreciated as much for their appearance and aesthetic qualities as their ability to deliver map-based information. In many ways the information is secondary and so much of the design is about the look and feel rather than the accuracy of the content.
A great example of this genre of mapping comes from Below the Boat who manufacture bathymetric charts using laser-cut birch wood that layers as a contour map. The Lake Tahoe example illustrates clearly the model construction where the top level is land and the contoured layers of wood sink to form the lake depths. Layers below the waterline are coloured blue to demarcate land from water and laser-etched labels and some topographic features such as major roads are added prudently.
The effect is stunning as the models take on the appearance of having the water simply sucked out of the channels to reveal the underwater world. This is map-making with an emphasis on the making. The creation of a physical model to capture the third dimension of bathymetry creates a beautifully designed map object with the attention to detail of the content as well as the construction contributing to the overall balance of the work.
More examples of Wood Charts can be seen on their web site.