- Arts and Design»
- Graphic Art & Design
The London Underground Tube Map
Harry Beck's Tube Map
Is Beck's Tube Map Art?
London Underground Tube Map by Harry Beck
Not just a map but an iconic piece of art, design and street decoration. People have actually stolen these maps from the stations to hang in their homes.
Every day over 3.5 million people use the London underground system. The Tube; as Londoners call it, has been doing it's job extremely well for over 100 years.
The Map has been around since circa 1931-3; when it was decided to try to rationalize the layout of the railway network, into a compact format, to help people understand how to get around the system more efficiently.
As the network grew, the need for people to find their way around, became more important. It may seem obvious to us today but this was not the case back in the 1930s
Harry Beck's Original 1931 - 33 Tube Map
Harry Beck's London Tube Map
Form and Function
Many people in London live quite simple lives in terms of travel. In many cases they go between their homes and workplace and so get to know 'their' route. Ask them to go somewhere else in London and they would be as lost as any tourist.
The need for a clear functional map was obvious and so Harry Beck reduced the sprawling geographical maps down to a form of circuit diagram. As an engineering draftsman this made perfect sense to him.
Mind the Gap (enamel sign)
Keeping it simple isn't easy
If we consider the typical circuit diagram of the electrical system of a house. We we can see that it bears no resemblance to where the actual cables and wires that go around the house. But we can see how the circuits work and connect together.
The Tube map that Harry Beck produced, is a work of genius. The same method has been used around the world by many other railway companies.
This design is different because it is not, a geographically accurate map. In fact it bears little resemblance to reality at all. What it does do is display where all the stations are in a relatively small space and with a over simplified layout to make it understandable.
For example if we look at the Northern line (top right quarter) we can see that it doesn't run in a straight line geographically but on Harry's map, it is a shown as a straight line.
The 2012 London Tube Map
Reading the Tube Map
The current map is divided into 6 zones radiating out from the centre of the map. Zone 1 in the centre of London to the outer suburbs in Zone 6.
You can see the 6 zones on the 2012 map above. The network covers just about every part of London and it is quite easy to time your journey. On average it takes 2 minutes between stations, so it is quite easy to accurately work out, how long it will take to get to any station on the network.
As the network has expanded out of London, to the surrounding countryside. More and more former country areas have become 'part' of greater London. Most of these formerly rural sections of the railway like Stratford in the east end of London are above ground. So don't be confused if your journey is not totally underground.
London has had it's fair share of firsts. The London underground railway was the first of it's kind in the world.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel's railway and walking tunnels under the River Thames where also first's as was the steam powered railway engine.
Harry Beck has left us a timeless first. In his remarkable tube map.
1907 Geographical Tube Map by FH Stingemore
The first underground system used steam engines
Tourists and Locals need the Tube Map
Many tourists and Londoners alike can find the Tube map a little daunting but it is really easy to understand if you take some time to study it in detail. As mentioned above. Think of it as a circuit diagram and forget geography, and it become's very easy to use.
It is a masterful piece of work and rightly deserves it iconic status. It is a fresh and contemporary today as the day it was first published. It is the London Underground.
The big blue line is a representation of the River Thames.Everything above the blue line is north of the river and everything below is south. Recently it was suggested that the River Thames should be removed. There was such an outcry that the plans were dropped immediately. It has become a deeply cherished object.
1907 Geograhical Map and the 2012 Journey Planner
The actual geographic layout is somewhat different and looks like something from the middle ages.
Find your way around London, on all forms of public transport including bicycles, with the official London 2012 journey planner.