Stamen’s New Map Tool Looks Like SimCity On Acid

Nokia’s HERE maps go from 3-D virtual realities to new aesthetic wonderlands in just a click.

We used to have cartographers. Before satellites took over, these scientist-artists painted our view of the world. I can only imagine the feeling of unrolling a scroll, and following a coastline of ink–an excitement building in my stomach to go see something that I could never see otherwise. “Maps were often used not just for navigation but for exploration,” Stamen CEO Eric Rodenbeck tells Co.Design. “There’s a ton of space and room in this field for straight up visual representation as a way to engage the public.”


It just so happens, reimagining maps is Stamen’s specialty. And they were recently brought in to develop on Nokia’s Here map platform. Their creation, which you can explore here, lets you peer deep into the 3-D urban topography of London, New York, Berlin and San Francisco.

One part of what Stamen’s done is translated Here to be Tile Map Service compatible (the zoomable squares that make products like Google Maps versatile), which opens the doors to third-party development on top of Nokia’s map infrastructure, along with handy features like embedding. The other part–and I think the more exciting part for most of us who don’t speak code–is that they’ve created a series of aesthetically awesome examples of just what can be done as developers approach maps as an art form rather than sheer information. So you can see wireframes of the Golden Gate, or view London in watercolors.

“We’ve become conditioned in the last 5 to 10 years to think maps are just good for driving directions and finding pizza,” Rodenbeck says. “I think there’s tremendous value in considering maps as an aesthetic object.”

The project is only in its earliest stages, and it obviously features just a few cities. But Stamen hopes, as they build out their own project, to inspire others to take the idea even further. Or as Rodenbeck puts it:

“I’d almost hate to speculate as to what’s possible.”

Try it here. Read more about the methodology here.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.