Map makers have, historically speaking, had a very difficult job. They had to draw countries and entire continents that couldn’t really be seen accurately enough for people to navigate. Satellite imagery and GPS made cartography much more accurate. The challenge of presenting a round planet on a flat map, though…. That is still vexing.
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Enter Japanese architect Hajime Narukawa. His new map of the world looks a bit unusual, but he claims to have produced the most accurate representation of our planet in two dimensions–ever.
He calls his map the AuthaGraph World Map. Let’s assume the science behind his accomplishment isn’t going to be easy to understand. But we’ll break it down.
To begin, you have to understand the distortion caused by flat maps.The world isn’t flat. Nor is it completely round (that can complicate some of this, too).
Narukawa began by creating a 2D rectangle built from 96 triangles.
It does so by dividing the world into 96 triangles, making it a tetrahedron, then unfolding it to become a rectangle. This allows for areas like Greenland to be represented more accurately.
The issue with the older Mercator style maps (which date back to the 1500s) is that some of the areas around the poles are not drawn to scale. Islands like Greenland look huge, because that section of the map is essentially stretched so it will lie flat.
This new map was awarded the 2016 good design grand award in Japan.
Indy100, reporting on the map, included this scene from West Wing that takes a deep dive into the ethnocentric ideologies of early cartography, in a fun (yet highly educational) way.
Narukawa gave a Ted Talk on his findings back in 2011. I highly recommend watching it, but–unless you are gifted with languages–I’d turn on the English subtitles.