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How Subway Maps Reflect the “Spirit” of a City


Zero Per Zero developed a project that seeks to represent not just the subterranean flow of different cities, but also their character and personality.

The maps of subway systems are one of the many portraits that depict a city’s identity. They outline the urban; it is Ariadne’s thread which in a single glance takes the viewer to the backbone and the peripheral zones of a city. In order to really inhabit a city we must be able to visualize it, to describe and write it. It is important, at least, to have a mental image of the blood flow that runs through the subway’s system and which is also a great part of the infrastructure that we so love, and at times, fear. Taking this into consideration, the Zero Per Zero designers have developed a project were they focus on said “identity”.

A city’s railway system taps into the feeling evoked by being in a city —its spirit, culture and character— and the importance of taking a citizen from point A to point B. So far, Zero Per Zero has made maps of New York, London, Amsterdam, Seoul, Paris and Tokyo. Naturally some maps are better than others, perhaps those from New York and London seem to be somewhat uncreative, based on a common location that does not represent the spirit of the city (London’s is superimposed over the emblem of Great Britain, and New York’s over an I <3 NY). Tokyo’s however, is a type of speed vortex that perfectly describes what it feels like to be among the perfectly planned intertwining, navigating through a colossal system of clean and crammed trains. Amsterdam’s opens up as if it was blooming tulip, and its petals lead you over rivers and bright suburbs.




The maps were designed by the art director Kim Ji-Hwan and the illustrator Jin Sol. These portraits don’t seek to be adopted as official maps, but they do seek to become pieces that express love for the flow of the cities they depict.

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