Announcing the glass map of San Francisco
I meant to announce this some time ago when it was unveiled. I've gotten quite a few queries regarding aspects of this map, so I'm posting some more info about it. From across the lobby of the San Francisco Business District Hilton, the map looks like it is one giant sheet of glass, twelve feet wide by six feet tall. Diffuse backlighting illuminates the grid of streets and neighborhoods and color coded tourist attractions. The result is an informational display which attains a level of elegance and beauty rarely seen in commercial interiors. The architecture firm Gensler did the design for the renovation of this landmark hotel across from the TransAmerica tower. Pulp Studio in LA took the digital files I designed and fabricated them into this amazing display, along with Hayward Glass. Cahill Contractors coordinated the integration of the many different groups working together. Making the map took months of non-stop effort. I gathered every bit of information on the city that I could find. Three different stylistic treatments were created for the customer to choose from. We had meetings in the under-construction hotel to reach a consensus on map size, extent, style, features, and many other factors. The architect's renderings were discussed. Many geo-spatial datasets were downloaded. Finally the map design was developed in Adobe Illustrator, sweating the details of every city block, park and pier in San Francisco. Many proof prints were made, which were a bit unwieldy as they were life-size or near life-size. The final file had to be split into three sections to match the panels that would be printed by Pulp Studios. For more photos of this map, see the Art of Geography Cartography pages. The hotel showcases the map on their website in the interior section. How is the map physically made? It is actually three panels printed on thin plastic sheets and sandwiched between two layers of glass, and backlit with diffuse lighting. The glass panels are held in place by a super-strong metal framework. The panels are so seamlessly joined that you have to be very close to be able to notice them (in the above close-up photo you can see a slight shadow off to the side where there is a seam. However when you are looking at it straight on, it is much less visible). Glass is an ideal surface for an environment like this which receives a lot of wear and tear from people pointing to places on the map. At the end of the day, the only thing necessary to restore the map to like new condition is a wipe with a cloth. There is some slight bowing of straight lines (distortion) in the above photos due to using a wide-angle lens for these shots. The final style treatment used Futura as the typeface. To see the kind of work that went into preparing alternative treatments, here is the mock-up of a section of the map using Klavika and a different color palette where landmark buildings are orange, and shopping districts purple: One of the key decisions was how much of the city to show. While it would have been great to show the entire city limits, the bottom edge ended up cropping the city just below the Mission. The form factor was guided by the fact that the top of the map needed to be no higher than about six feet tall. Other factors included where the critical mass of attractions were, and a block size such that individual buildings could be highlighted and named. I think a reasonable balance was chosen. Another design challenge was the longevity of the map -- we wanted as much of the map as possible to remain viable over at least ten years. That meant shifting the focus somewhat from a printed map which might be updated every other year.