Look at the twinkly night-sky background, and star-burst pleasure zones of the 1942 German-language Paris Metro map, and you easily forget it was published in war-torn, Nazi-occupied Paris. The rich colours and scrolled panels are more ballroom glamour than night-time air raid, although the clear train lines and horizontal station names are an intriguing early example of German wayfinding efficiency. It’s one of the dozens of Paris Metro maps in Mark Ovenden’s forensic study of the Paris transport system, which includes official and tourist maps, plus station architecture, Art Nouveau entrances, and Art Deco candelabra.
British graphic designers, reared on Henry (Harry) Beck’s non-geographic linear diagram of the London Underground, will be wide-eyed at the variety and idiosyncrasies of Parisian methods for mapping urban transit systems. Instead of the strict electrical schematic of Beck, with straight horizontals and verticals, 45-degree angles and modified distances, the French retained an overground cartographic approach, including wiggly roads and historic monuments, long after they were dropped in the UK.
Incredibly, Beck proposed plans for a Paris Metro map over a long period, between 1939 and 1951, but he was turned down on the grounds that his designs would not ‘suit Paris’. It wasn’t until 2000 that there was an entirely new, completely true diagram of the Paris Metro map (Beck’s London Underground map first appeared in 1933).
Ovenden’s book will fascinate graphic designers. It includes official maps, and unofficial ones, old and new, as well as maps created for the digital realm. The paper maps and their pictorial covers provide not only a history of the Paris Metro, but also a history of illustration, typography and cartographic trends. There is also the treat of seeing the hushed-up maps with mistakes. A Restel diagram from 2002 is beautifully clear, but as Ovenden puts it, ‘sadly includes some serious errors’.
Paris Metro Style by Mark Ovenden will be published by Capital Transport Publishing, priced £29.95, on 28 November