The straight lines and elegance of the London tube maps has often been admired. Clean lines – like Eric Gill’s typography and Edwin Lutyens’ architecture; simple, manly, clean, all the values of a world fit for heroes (and colonialists).
But we’re living in a more rainbow coloured age – one that doesn’t necessarily respect logic and manliness, but prefers the right-brain, the creative, the feminine. We might prefer flow to rules, synthesis to taxonomy. Beck’s map is lovely but perhaps it’s time for a rethink.
And to my great joy I find someone has been doing that rethinking and come up with a wonderful map that throws its tentacles in wild abandon to the outer rearches of Metroland like some mad outer space sea anemone looking for David Tennant… Glorious, isn’t it? I particularly love the not quite heart shaped finial on the eastern end of the Central Line, and the way the centre of London comes out not as a ring, a doughnut, or a rough rectangle, but as a squashed and wavy irregular form which reminds me of a prehistoric earthwork or a puddle of viscous liquid.
Elsewhere the splendid Max Roberts, designer of this intriguing new map, shows the accurate (in its day) tube map produced by London Transport in the 1930s and 1940s. What I find really lovely about it is that it shows the way the railway lines relate to watercourses, parks and forests – the manmade and the natural in relationship to each other. You never get that idea from the standard tube maps, which see the actual fabric of London and its boroughs as an irrelevance.