The Italian architect and surveyor Giambattista Nolli is perhaps best known for his epic ichnographic plan of Rome, known as the Nolli map. He began his exhaustive survey in 1736 and eventually engraved and published the map in 1748 across twelve sheets measuring 176cm by 208cm when pieced together. The map was effectively commissioned by Pope Benedict XIV as a way to map and subsequently demarcate Rome into 14 districts. The detail of the map reflected the architectural achievements of Rome and of the Papacy itself of the time.
The map is a phenomenal achievement of technical work and of detail and precision. It also incorporates some interesting design choices, not least the orientation of east to magnetic north to reflect the use of the compass to determine bearings in relation to the city’s layout. In terms of depiction, the map illustrates the importance of figure-ground in cartographic design. Nolli followed a previous work, the Bufalini map of 1551, which shaded buildings and other features in dark while ensuring open spaces were white. Additionally, he maps the various colonnades of important public spaces such as St. Peter’s Square in black, almost in the style of an architectural blueprint.
While the map undoubtedly has historical significance both in the mapping of Rome and also as a scientific and technical achievement, the contribution to cartography is also hugely important. The dark grey hachuring for the buildings highlighted the importance of colour, depth, contrast and texture in defining visual contrast. Nolli used black to indicate monuments and white outlines to show the locations of ancient monuments that no longer exist. S-shaped curves were used to denote contours and slopes which was before contours were used more commonly to illustrate elevation. A waterlining effect was used as a vignette for the river and various symbols used to show locations of other features with qualitative differences indicated through design (e.g. open and closed drains). The use of precise illustrative symbols was rare in maps of the time.
You can read more about the Nolli map, and view an online archived version, at the Interactive Nolli Map website here.
Back to the use of maps as a framework for artistic expression with Richter’s Townscapes. Here, artist Richter has created a range of paintings that are based on oblique views of different towns and cities. He approaches each work from a different perspective and experiments with scale that mimics the approach a cartographer takes in determining how much to generalize a feature.
For some paintings, the scale is smaller and the view is from a higher elevation and so the buildings take on a rather abstract form, perhaps just the general shape and the inclusion of major features. Examples that are at a larger scale inevitably include more of the building’s detail. That said, the large scale paintings are perhaps less easy to recognise due to the larger size of shapes. Because the paintings are all in shades of grey we tend to see large indistinct blocks of grey which are not necessarily immediately seen as buildings. Of course, standing back from the paintings gives us a different perspective, the image occupies a smaller form and we tend to see the images more clearly. At distance they begin to look like monochrome oblique aerial photographs.
Richter also experiments with different brushstrokes and textures, going from very fluid approaches to strongly geometric. As a collection, they give us a fascinating way to reflect on the urban form and, perhaps, show us a little of the artistry in how we approach the task of generalization as part of cartographic design. Scale, form, texture and viewing distance all strongly modify the viewing experience. These are key processes in understanding cartographic design.
You can view more of Richter’s Townscapes at his web site here.
Click image to view the web map.
Melbourne’s Urban Forest Visual by OOM Creative is simply conceived and well built. There’s nothing pretentious or bloated about the map and it’s clean and elegant approach to mapping every tree in the city of Melbourne is a template for the use of modern web maps. The web site houses the embeded map so there’s no going to a separate site. The User interface is uncluttered and intuitive. The overall design builds on a limited but effective colour palette that repeats across the map and the site itself. The use of a dark basemap and bright colours creates a pleasing contrast between background and detail.
The map shows the location of every tree recorded by a census and categorises them by genus using different shapes. Almost immediately, this simple act of making the effort to categorise point data and show them differently takes this web map further than many similar maps that might just show the presence of a phenomena or not. Binary web maps are common (things exist and are shown, or they don’t). OOM Creative have thought cartographically about the work. Further, the symbols are coloured to indicate the remaining lifespan of the tree. Immediately, you can see where streets are populated with the same genus of tree creating a particular uniform scene, or perhaps where their is a rich variety. It’s easy to spot the botanical gardens! It’s also easy to see the spatial pattern of the health of trees and where resources perhaps need to be targeted for remediation or replanting in the coming years.
You can modify the map view to focus on the detail at a precinct level and also select a subset of the data to show trees by age or by use. The map forms part of a larger story about the Melbourne canopy and conservation efforts. It’s an educational web site of which the map forms a core component. Perhaps the most endearing aspect of the map is, in addition to clicking on each tree to reveal information, you can ‘email a tree’. Designed as a way for people to report tree health, damage or other information, it has also been used as a simple way of communication to express to a tree how important it has been, or any range of other eccentric human reactions. In this sense the map provides a fascinating way for people to interact with their environment in an emotional way.
You can see the web map as part of the Urban Forest Visual web site here.
Mapping multivariate statistical data is fraught with difficulties due to the problem of encoding multiple pieces of information into a coherent yet simple symbol design. The balance between making your data readable and understandable is harder, the more pieces of data you want to show. It’s also very easy to end up with symbol overload that easily translates to cognitive overload.
In 1973, Herman Chernoff an applied mathematician, published a paper in which he proposed the use of a human face to display multivariate data in the shape of the human face. The idea was simple – change the shape, size, placement and orientation of different facial features to encode different variables. The overall result changed the face and the facial expression which brought an overall sense to the combination of data. Chernoff argued that small changes can be seen in human faces due to our innate ability to recognise human faces and their subtle differences. They are extremely economical graphical structures in which
Of course, choosing how to reflect the data in different facial features is fundamental. Here. Eugene Turner creates what has become a well used example of the genre, though the use of Chernoff Faces has courted controversy and not seen a huge uptake largely due to difficulties in construction. The additional problem is in the way in which we automatically interpret the faces through our impression of emotion. Hence the crucial need to ensure your variables are mapped in a way that works rather than one which conveys the wrong emotional response. Turner does a good job of building a facial profile out of social conditions and ethnicity. It’s a simple map but one that characterises the spatial structure of socio-economic life in Los Angeles. It’s also a provocative and arresting image and one which is difficult to hide from.
Chernoff faces deserve a mention in any design related commentary because they are innovative. They’re hard to employ correctly but even if only a small proportion of our data can be effectively mapped using them, they’re still a useful tool in the cartographer’s design armoury.
Chernoff’s original paper can be downloaded here.
State topographic maps have a special relationship with the national landscape they are designed to symbolise and offer much more than a dry statement of facts and approach a kaleidoscopic fusion of art, science and culture. And far from being standardised, topographic mapping (especially in Europe) exhibits a wide diversity of cartographic styles, according to how the national landscape is to be used, valued, and preserved. As with any map, topographic maps are subject to the key decisions in mapmaking – choices over what to show and how to show it – and these choices can be slow to change. So what happens when a new country is born?
The central European nation-state of Slovenia achieved independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on 26th June 1991, joined NATO and the EU in 2004, and in 2007 became the first former communist country to join the Eurozone. Following independence, Slovenia established a comprehensive topographic mapping programme, with the new 1:25,000 series (comprising 198 sheets) being the first to completely cover the state territory in 1999, followed by the 1:50,000 series (58 sheets) which was completed in 2005. The map shown here is the sheet from the 1:50,000 series that includes Triglav, 2864 m, the highest mountain in Slovenia and highest peak of the Julian Alps, situated in the north-west of the country.
The landscape of the new country was captured and defined using a new cartographic language. Under the old regime, topographic maps were available only to certain users, and omitted key aspects of the landscape such as caves and depressions – key features of the Karst landscape that covers much of the country. These features now take their rightful place in the landscapes of the new and fully accessible series of topographic maps. The extraordinarily rich symbology – with over 200 graphically distinctive symbols in the 1:50,000 series – is broader than any other employed by a European national mapping agency at this scale. Here, the language of cartography is in full bloom.
Click the image to view web map
Big data is one of those ill-defined buzzwords that is rarely used appropriately. It’s a fairly all-encompassing term that relates to a dataset that is so large, unwieldy and incomprehensible that it creates difficulties in terms of processing. For cartography, big data might be regarded as a dataset that creates difficulties for analysis in the sense of distilling it to something meaningful to map; or it might relate to the the visualization techniques we have to build to handle something that is problematic to display using traditional means. It’s debatable whether a million items is big enough to be called big data but it certainly creates big cartographic design problems. Paperscape attempts to resolve the problem by creating a map of nearly a million scientific papers.
The map is a constellation of symbols; small circles coloured by the type of category of scientific work the paper explores. Colours tend to occupy similar spaces and sit comfortably within the overall constellation. The broad category is labelled but the beauty of the map is when you zoom in there’s a progressive reveal of detail. Circles become larger and we see more labels and more symbols appear. Larger symbols indicate increased citation rates as a measure of the paper’s importance. You can switch the colours to represent age with newer papers appearing more saturated along a single hue colour scheme.
This is no dumb map though. Clicking the symbols gives you full bibliographic details and additional controls to create links to all other papers that are either referenced by or cited in the paper. It’s a novel way of representing a bibliographic database and does a great job of bringing a cartographic design solution to the representation of a million individual records and their complex interconnectivity.
It’s multiscale, easy to understand and interactive. It’s also well designed.
You can view Paperscape here.
In possibly the greatest example of cartographic simulacrum, the World Islands project is both befuddling and impressive at the same time. The idea to create a completely artificial archipelago of small islands in the shape of a world map might seem extravagant but then why not? In the search for cartographic curiosities it’s relatively easy to find maps that hold certain titles (oldest, largest etc) but constructing something on an altogether grander scale was always going to take a special place. That place, of course, is Dubai and a project originally conceived by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.
In design terms it’s the scale and imagination of the project that impresses. The project to create some 300 or more islands by dredging sand began in 2003. It has yet to be completed though most of the islands have been sold to private contractors ahead of development. Only two of the islands have been developed thus far but the world’s richest people and organisations always need frivolous reasons to spend money and what better than a ‘country’ all of their own in World Islands.
The archipalago measures some 9km by 6km and the islands range from 14,000 to 42,000 sq metres. Distances between the islands averages 100m and the shorelines total approximately 232km in length. Dredging for the islands was completed in 2008 and in early 2012 the ‘Lebanon’ island opened as a commercial island for private corporate events and public parties with the Royal Island Beach Club. The project is really quite astonishing and shows how vital the shape of the countries on our planet really are for all manner of artistic projects. They inspire so much beyond making maps.
What could be better than partying on a map of the world on the world?
The so-called Holy Grail of cartograms was solved by Michael Gastner and Mark Newman and published in 2004. To this point, cartograms had largely been abstract maps; they took various geometric shapes such as circles and then re-sized and re-positioned them. The result was a map without a map…there was very little of the underlying geography depicted and in some respects they were simply spatial graphs, or the thematic part of a thematic map without any sense of the geography that they more normally sit atop of.
At the heart of a cartogram is the use of symbols to represent geographic regions in proportion to the variable being mapped. To do this, one normally has to severely distort shapes or revert to geometric symbols. These can make such maps difficult to read because they no longer look like the very places they are supposed to represent. Gastner and Newman brought a new approach to the calculation of their cartogram by making use of elementary physics. This in itself was innovative since they borrowed logic and algorithms from the science of physics and applied it to cartography. They demonstrated their work using data from the 2000 U.S. Presidential election which illustrates how the U.S.A. map is modified by the share of the vote, thus giving equal visual weight to the key data being mapped as well as retaining the general impression of a map of the U.S.
The technique is referred to as density equalising because it uses a variable to normalize the map shape. It’s almost the inverse of a choropleth whereby one would normalize the data values to take account of the size of area; instead the actual values are mapped but the size of the areas are modified so they are visually equivalent in prominence. The result was an elegant solution to the search for a cartogram that allowed the user to show different magnitudes by area and at the same time preserve shape sufficient enough to make it recognisable. In effect, the map is warped yet shared boundaries are retained in their correct topological state. The map retains the essential elements of the original shapes and leaves readers with the ability to recognise the shapes.
Cartograms are visually arresting as images. Gastner and Newman’s work produced a new technique that enables them to be just that bit more understandable.
You can read their original paper here.
Instead of creating general purpose reference maps that depict the topographic detail of a specified area, an alternative approach is to let a specific feature define the area itself. In this sense, the feature becomes the central player in the map and all other content becomes its supporting cast. It also determines the shape, format and, possibly, the size of the finished product. This superb example shows the Abe River region in Japan from the mid 19th century. The river itself defines the shape and scope of the map with the flow from north-west to south-east being depicted from left to right across the map, with straightening being used in places. In this case, north is towards the upper left rather than directly upwards.
The map is predominantly pictorial with relief in particular shown pictorially. Relief is drawn in aspect while the map in general is planimetric; a fairly typical approach of the time in Japanese cartography. It’s also worth noting that the mountains are not uniformly drawn with their base at the bottom and peak at the top across the map – they change orientation so, for instance, toward the left of the map it’s noticeable that the mountains are rotated left by 90 degrees to show them as the origin of the river and make the flow of the river make more sense visually.
There is very little text on the map itself, the reverse side being used for notes on the geography of the region. This allows the map to remain clutter free and for the topography to be drawn in detail. The finish is in watercolour and ink with major land uses benefiting from different hues to demarcate the landscape.
The braided river flowing through alluvial deposits and floodplains is particularly well represented and stands out amongst other rich colours of the surrounding mountains. The stippled pattern for the plains adds to the texture of the map and creates a sense of realism that a relatively solid fill doesn’t. There’s no frame as such and the river washes out into the sea to the right.
A beautiful map and an example of allowing your subject or theme dictate many of the other cartographic choices to be made.
Cartography isn’t restricted to the planet that we inhabit. Imagery and maps have long been made for other planets, moons, stars and (recently) comets in our solar system and, indeed, of the solar system itself. They are a key mechanism by which we record information about the surface composition, geology or topography whether that be by remotely sensed imagery or through the capture and analysis of samples from human exploration or robotic means. Being the closest major celestial body to Earth, the Moon is perhaps unsurprisingly the earliest and most detailed to have been mapped to date.
Prepared for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Geological Survey as part of the Geologic Atlas of the Moon, 1:5,000,000, this map was the first of its kind. It was compiled from NASA Lunar Orbiter and Apollo photographs and Soviet Zond photographs as well as geochemical and geophysical data obtained from orbiting spacecraft to show the detailed geological character of the Moon in glorious detail.
The map illustrates the topography as a technicolour mosaic that is almost Jackson Pollock-esque in design. The engaging palette of colours immediately attracts interest in the map which accentuates the strange form of the Lunar landscape. What might appear to be a small design element, the thin black line outlining each feature helps to accentuate the image and delineate one feature from another as distinct forms in contrast to the monotonous appearance of the real landscape. The colours themselves allow the reader to quickly differentiate between neighbouring detail and also to identify where similar information exists elsewhere. It’s also possible to pick out craters and other morphological detail.
The map is in two versions, one that includes geological notation and grids and a version without. It’s a magnificent scientific tool of record and discovery but it’s also a piece of cartographic art and one which has inspired many subsequent maps of the moon and other bodies that generally comprise an interest in planetary cartography.