Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Great for finding your way to the architect’s many Windy City projects.
Frank Lloyd Wright once said that Chicago would eventually be “the most beautiful great city left in the world.” Never lacking in self-regard, Wright was surely influenced by the pleasure of seeing so many of his own buildings all over the Windy City. But for a man who, quite publicly, looked forward to the collapse of other high-density, industrial centers, this still counts as high praise.
So what if Wright were asked to design a Chicago subway map that could help millions of people without cars get to their favorite Wright projects? British cartographer Max Roberts recently posed himself that challenge.
“Of all the cities in America with major rail transit systems, Chicago probably has the strictest grid structure, and the ‘L’ lines reflect that,” says Roberts. “In a way,” he adds, “it reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright's work, organized and yet never perfectly regular.”
A fan of Wright’s Prairie Houses, Roberts uses eight different Tree of Life patterns, each one with a different color, to represent the CTA’s color-coded diagram. Square sections of the window patterns vary along each line for subtle variety and a more attractive Loop diagram.
It took Roberts many attempts before finding a design he’s happy with. “I reached ‘Plan H’ before I could see it was beginning to work,” the map enthusiast tells CityLab.
Roberts, who is always looking for ways to reimagine a subway map, has become intrigued by the idea of taking famous artists and applying their style to a city they’re most associated with. Earlier this year, he made a Glasgow subway map in the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.