The London Tube Map as a shared public diagram

Christoph Lueder (Kingston University)
17 January 2013

Part of session 2: Designing the Underground.
Harry Beck’s seminal London Tube Map, in over 80 years of use and alteration since its inception in 1931, has provided an indispensible tool for navigation to tourists and locals. It may have become one of the most widely recognized diagrammatic representation of any city. As a diagram, it not only is a tool for navigation, but also, paraphrasing Anthony Vidler, an instrument of thought about the city as well as a mirror of thought. Comments and early sketches of Beck, such as the ‘spoof diagram’ suggesting analogy to electrical circuit boards, evoke what Paul Elliman has termed ‘the modernist vision of the city as an efficient machine’. However, in its various incarnations and re-inventions, the London Tube Map has been invested with memory, meaning and poetics by its users. It has been re-labelled, re-configured, and re-conceptualized by advertisers, artists, designers and theorists, while remaining recognizable and retaining graphic coherence. Unlike aboveground London, which too has been a subject of seminal maps, but has resisted conceptualization as a single, shared public image, the London Underground is embedded in public imagination as a network diagram.
This paper will examine processes of appropriation of the Tube Map against alternate attempts at diagramming urban networks such as Situationist maps of Paris. A series of semi-structured interviews incorporating sketched diagrams of above and below ground London will be evaluated in order to situate the London Tube Map in the context of urban theory and the practice of urban life. 
Christoph Lueder is a graduate of the University of Stuttgart in architecture and urbanism where he has also taught. He practiced with Behnisch & Partners as well as Auer + Weber in Stuttgart before setting up his own office in Zurich whil teaching and researching at ETH. In the UK he has taught at Canterbury School of Architecture and currently researches on the roles of diagrams in architecture and culture and teaches at Kingston University. 

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