Home Subway Maps Event of the Day: A talk on the subway map

Event of the Day: A talk on the subway map

by Benjamin Kabak

Massimo Vignelli will discuss his iconic and controversial subway map tonight at the Museum of the City of New York.

I’ve got a soft spot for subway maps. The history of the subway map traces the history of the city, and as with everything else in New York, we’ve seen controversy emerge out of the map as well. Should the subway map be geographical? Schematic? A work of it? The debate is endless.

Tonight, at 6:30 p.m. at the Museum of the City of New York, various cartographers will gather for a talk entitled “The New York City Subway Map: Form v. Function.” The museum’s website describes it as such:

Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 New York City subway map, produced by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was considered a design triumph—earning itself a place in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art—but it was also criticized as confusing to passengers. A new version of the subway map was released earlier this year, re-raising the enduring dilemma of how best to achieve both functionality and beauty. Join the creators of several subway maps, including John Tauranac and Massimo Vignelli, for a discussion about designing for the riding public, featuring Eddie Jabbour, creator of Kick Map and the NYC subway app; and Paul Shaw, author of Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story.

I’m looking forward to this one, and if you’ve got a few hours free tonight, check it out. The Museum of the City of New York is located at 1220 Fifth Avenue between E. 103rd and E. 104th Sts., a short walk from the 6 train stop at 103rd St.

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Daniel Howard December 7, 2010 - 6:42 pm

I knew I shouldn’t have moved back to California: LOOK WHAT I AM MISSING!? :/


John December 7, 2010 - 8:44 pm

Coming out as it did when the Ronan regime was full bore into their program of repainting the carbon steel trains in the MTA colors and had just finished re-tiling the BMT Broadway/Fourth Ave. stations (again, mostly in the MTA corporate colors), while neglecting things like preventive maintenance or working diligently to stop the growing graffiti outbreak in the system, the new map struck me at the time as another example of style over substance.

MBDF’s for the rolling stock falling apart? Who cares — Paint the cars blue and silver and the passengers will think they’ve been overhauled. Bowling Green on the 4/5 imaged as a mile away from South Ferry on the 1, or 50th Street on the 1 represented as being west of 50th on the AA/CC/E? Who cares — Look how elegant the curves and angles are and beautiful the map looks, and look how many awards it’s won.

That pretty much summed up William Ronan’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Edward December 7, 2010 - 8:53 pm

Oy, I wish you had posted this earlier (before I shlepped all the way home from midtown 🙁 )

nyctaxiphoto December 7, 2010 - 10:28 pm

oh darn, if only i saw this sooner, maybe I would’ve gone, I love maps, nyc history, and the rearranging of all we find familiar, I always wonder what the subway map would look like if geographically accurate, probably to small to read, or if done in a completely less accurate fashion like london’s

John Paul N. December 7, 2010 - 11:27 pm

Ben should be writing up his report shortly, but re: a geographically accurate map, the panelists would be horrified as it likely would violate basic design principles. Also, Vignelli and Tauranac represent 2 opposing visions of the map, and the best representation for this city is somewhere in between.

nyctaxiphoto December 7, 2010 - 10:30 pm

really though the original looks way better than what we have today, though i may disagree with myself tomorrow.

John Paul N. December 7, 2010 - 11:20 pm

Ben posted a message on Facebook around 5:00, just enough time for me to prepare and go. (I was also lucky just to be looking at Facebook on my phone just then.) Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed. The auditorium was full and the audience was captivated, unlike that recent 92Y Steve Martin interview debacle.

I was lucky again to meet up with Ben afterward while going to the subway. (I didn’t get to ask when he found out about the event, darn it.) Always a pleasure to meet with; this is my 3rd meeting. When I said goodbye, it was funny when he had to run down the stairs for the express at 86th Street as part of the crowd.


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