Spring 2008

Street life [extract]

Mapping London: Making Sense of the City

By Simon Foxell
Black Dog Publishing, 2007, £39.95

Maps of a city you call home are the cartographic equivalent of a family tree. You may know no more about Great Aunt Sissi than her birth and death dates, but there is a bond that legitimises all your imaginings of what she must have been like. Maps, like family trees, are diagrammatic depictions of lives and spaces that encourage dreaming: so much is left unsaid and is intentionally and unintentionally in a form of period code.

So, initially I was drawn into Mapping London not as a graphic designer but as a Londoner searching for clues. The qualities of the marks and devices, analysis of the relative success or failure as pieces of information design, all paled into insignificance against the chance to glimpse my imagined London circa 1550, 1650 and so on . . .

. . . For the graphic designer this book makes rich pickings. Few of the maps are graphically conventional but most are wholly appropriate. The 1943 diagram showing a ‘social and functional analysis’ of London could be mistaken for a fabric design – but its charm doesn’t impede its legibility. Bruce McLean’s Designer Traffic Jam (1998) communicates the chaotic traffic network in Hammersmith while humorously referencing the artist’s own work. Space Syntax’s London Pedestrian Mapping (2006) with its black background and brightly colour-coded diagonal lines is simultaneously rich, accessible and engaging . . .

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