Underneath London

Below ground. Buried. Covered. In the recesses. Subterranean. Subterrestrial. Sunken. Underfoot. Underground. Most people think that the world beneath us is chaotic. How ironic it will be to see a very organized map represent a very unorganized reality — as most people perceived it to be.

Above is a topological map of the London underground railway system made by Harry Beck in 1933. It is very wise for the cartographer to make it topological for two reasons. First, absolute locations do not matter when pertaining to railway maps because users will be more interested on the sequence of train stations. And lastly, it makes the map look better, simpler, more presentable, and easier to understand. You can see the difference for yourself by comparing this one to an earlier map made by F.H. Stingemore in 1931-2:


Though there are no graticules to denote ground location of the places on the map, there is the famous River Thames to indicate relative location (however, River Thames is not labeled in Harry Beck’s 1933 map which is essential for the users who are not familiar with London). The legend looks compressed inside a small box. As a result, there are blank spaces around it, which adds up to the other blank spaces throughout the map. The North arrow lessens the bad impact of the large blank space at the top right. Obviously, there is no scale in the map. It will be of great importance for measuring distances. There is a symbol (red “X” near the black line on the top) that lacks definition. On the other hand, there are texts which indicate where the railways are going (these makes the map informative).


In general, the map shows balance. There is no side which looks heavier than the other. The colors used bring good contrast. The lines look soft; as a result, they are pleasing to the eyes. The map’s simplicity is the most beautiful part of it.


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