This Brilliant Map Will Change the Way You See the World

Who knew that there was room for innovation in cartography?


The Good Design Grand Award, arguably Japan’s most prestigious award for design, just went out to architect Hajime Narukawa’s completely groundbreaking design for a map of the world. His map, the AuthaGraph World Map, isn’t your average map of the globe: It’s a near-perfect representation of the continents and oceans as they exist on our spherical planet, all laid out on a two-dimensional surface.

Maps are pretty darn complicated. We take it for granted that Antarctica is going to be smushed down at the bottom of the map and not shown in full; all the oceans are radically disfigured, but we’re used to seeing them that way. That style dates back to cartographer Gerardus Mercator’s paradigm-shifting map from 1569.

It’s not easy to map a sphere in two dimensions, but we’ve made compromises. Sometimes, those compromises carry a bit too much weight: Some countries appear bigger or more central than others. Maps, then, can be seen as political statements.

Here’s the original Mercator projection of the world, which is probably similar to the one you’re used to seeing (although things were a bit wonky in 1569).

Looks roughly familiar, right?

Wikimedia Commons

And here’s a version of the Mercator projection called the Miller projection, which is similar or close to the traditional flat modern maps hanging in most classrooms today.

Pretty standard, but all the sizes are wrong.

Wikimedia Commons

Variations of the Mercator projection have been criticized politically because they represent certain countries as much, much larger than they actually are. Not so with Narukawa’s map. Each country, including Antarctica and the North Pole, is shown in its entirety. Here it is:

Yeah, the Pacific Ocean is HUGE.

In addition, the AuthaGraph can tessellate: Even if you spread out ten of these maps next to one another, there would be “no visible seams,” the Good Design Award website notes. This allows for some neat applications, like tracking the International Space Station’s orbit across a flat surface.

If you purchase the AuthaGraph Globe, you can origami the map from a sheet of paper into a sphere or into a tetrahedron. You probably can’t use it to find yourself, though.