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MC Escher-Inspired Map Wins Japan's GOOD DESIGN Award

The map addresses some fundamental misconceptions about the world—and folds into a nice origami globe.
November 2, 2016, 1:35pm

Japanese designers have come up with a new map that looks like something out of dystopian science fiction, but purports to be the most accurate flat image of the planet so far. Recently announced as the winner of Japan's prestigious GOOD DESIGN Grand Award, design firm AuthaGraph's mystifying atlas tilts the Americas, Asia, and Africa askew in order to make all of Earth's landmasses and oceans proportional, an accomplishment none of our current cartographical options can boast.


Designer Hajime Narukawa's math-heavy process involved a lot of complicated equations which boiled down to dividing the globe into 96 regions, which he transferred onto an inflated tetrahedon. This makes a round globe into a 3D shape with edges that can be flattened onto a single plane. A process called "iso-area-mapping" reduces the distortion of maps like the Mercator projection that likely hung in your elementary school classroom. This warping effect is why many think that Greenland is the size of Africa, Alaska as massive as the continental U.S., and Antartica's a behemoth that dwarfs all the other continents. While other models have corrected these misconceptions, their changes come at a cost, such as cutting into the oceans or distorting the continents into unnatural shapes.

Mercator Projection, Wikimedia Commons

Narukawa's product maintains proportionality across all landmasses and oceans, surpassing other designs in that it can tesselate—similar to an M.C. Escher tiling—to create the illusion of the Earth's never-ending surface. "It had been thought the world is on an infinite plane since geometries of a sphere and of an infinite plane are similar. Walking on both surfaces, we do not meet an end," Narukawa explains. As a result of his calculations, the AuthaGraph projection can literally fold into a globe.

AuthaGraph World Map, CC

Mapmakers' approaches to projecting our spherical planet onto a manageable 2D plane represent the problems of their times. When Gerardus Mercator designed his map in 1569, it was a tool ships used to easily plot courses in a straight line without making constant corrections for the Earth's curves. Narukawa seeks to solve the conceptual problems that come with a distorted perception of the world's oceans and polar regions. For example, its easier to dismiss shrinking glaciers it looks like there's an infinite wasteland of ice at the north and south poles, which seem distant from the tropical locations at risk from rising water levels. "The AuthaGraphic world map aims to provide a new view point to perceive the world by equally showing these interests spread over the globe."

Is a map likely to solve all the problems of misinformation plaguing our society today? Of course not. But AuthaGraph is an example of how thoughtfulness in design objects can positively impact the world.

AuthaGraph World Map, CC

Learn more about AuthaGraph on their website.

Via Spoon & Tamago


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