Popular Cartography Exhibits
Virtual exhibits prepared by participants in Reading Popular Cartography, the Smith Center’s 2004 NEH Summer Institute for College and University Faculty and Staff.  These captions were also published in Mapline no. 101-102 (Winter 2006).


Mapping Utopia: Town Plans From City Beautiful to Your Private Universe


An idea originated by Sir Thomas More in his treatise of 1516, utopia is an imaginary country of ideal happiness and good order. More's utopia is ‘no place or land of nowhere,’ an imaginary world, illustrated as an island in the frontispiece of the treastise;1 imaginary lands or societies are often described or depicted as islands, disconeccted from the known world. The Burnham Plan and Buckminster Fuller’s Air-Ocean World Map propose two alternative eutopias that seek to define civic and ecological order through maps of known areas.


Between 1906 and 1908, Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett created the Plan of Chicago, published by The Commercial Club of Chicago in 1909. Considered an important contribution to the City Beautiful movement, the collection's maps, plans, and perspectival views present a regional urban design of sweeping avenues and monumental architecture that promotes the civic enterprise.


In 1954, Buckminster Fuller published the Raleigh edition of his Dymaxion Air-Ocean World Map, a project begun by the architect, futurist, and philosopher in the 1920s. In the dymaxion series of maps, Fuller superimposed a spherical icosahedron2 grid onto the earth's surface to limit the distortion of the relative size and shape of its components.


Whereas the projection of Fuller’s map represents all areas with equal weight, Burnham’s rendering of urban space in the Chicago plan prioritizes areas that serve a greater aesthetic or civic purpose. In Fuller’s map, the North Pole is the neutral center around which land mass and ocean unfold. In the proposed plan for Chicago, the civic nexus occurs at the intersection of Congress Street and Halsted Avenue, near the site of present-day interchange of the Kennedy, Eisenhower and Dan Ryan Expressways. In the companion text to the maps and drawings, the architect and urban planner Burnham writes that “[t]he attainment of harmony, good order, and beauty” requires “enlightened understanding and competent planning.”


One of Fuller’s objectives was to establish a map that does not prioritize cardinal direction, political entities, or hemispheric organization. Instead, the Dymaxion map provides a base for presenting global themes such as human migration, natural resources, and population distribution. Temperature replaces politics as the organizing map feature. In this map, world climate is shown in a range of coloration from warm reds to cool greens and blues. Even though highlighting a specific theme, Fuller's map emphasizes wholeness across the global surface in contrast to the Chicago maps that seek to represent unity (and civic goodness) through points of emphasis. In these urban maps, color is used more picturesquely, in the Beaux Arts tradition, to highlight the aesthetic value of a particular urban space or building. Moreover, Fuller saw his map as a populist construct to be used as an operational tool by each member of the global citizenry: a 1943 issue of Life published one of Fuller’s maps that could be cut up into 14 gores and reassembled in the form of a Dymaxion globe.3 Burnham's maps and drawings would be carried out for the regional citizenry by urban planners and government mandate.

In their respective city and world projects, Burnham and Fuller did share the objective of mapping possible town plans. In 1927, Fuller sketched the World Town Plan, a map that preceded and directly influenced his 1954 map. Fuller’s town plan map, in its projection method and form, highlights the connectivity of his “one world island”; and Burnham’s plan posits the “embodiment of civic life.”



At the Newberry Library, see the 1750 edition of More’s work titled De optimo reipublicae statu deque nova insula Utopia, libri II. Newberry Library Wing ZP 743 .F8073.
A polyhedron with 20 triangular faces.
3 “Life presents R. Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion world” Life, 1 March 1943. Newberry Library map2F oG3201.B72 1943 F8.


- Magali Carrera (University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth)
- Janet Halpin (Chicago State University)
- Jonathan Lewis (Benedictine University)
- Judy Schaaf (University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth)