looking for structure: the metro maps of Jug Cerovic

Paris-based Serbian designer Jug Cerovic tipped me off a month ago to his remarkable work on subway maps, collected at his website and since hailed at Atlantic Citylab.    If you want to geek out on beautiful detail, go to his website now.  Here, I'm interested in looking from a fuzzier distance.



His work interests me because I'm always trying to help people see underlying principles of network structure, such as the high-frequency grid in all its forms, and often contending with the seductive allure of its opposite, the seemingly endless loop.  

Cerovic's eye has picked out these forms, and fondles their contrast expertly:  He picks out a central loop in every city that provides a hint of one, organizing map after map around a geometrically perfect circle or oval.   Berlin:


His maps of comprehensive East Asian metros call out the circle line in most of them.  Beijing and Shanghai are both rigidly circle-and-spoke like Moscow, but Beijing's outer circle is far enough out to create orthogonal grid effects in relation to the straight lines it crosses.  Cerovic, perhaps sensing this, renders the loops as rectangles:


But it's hard to resist the beauty of the circle.  Tackling Paris, Cerovic seizes on the ellipsoid loop formed by Metro lines 2 and 6, rendering them as a perfect circle that seems to unify the image.  Only the color change signals that you can't go around forever.


I have long argued that the Paris metro is mostly an orthogonal grid system, with most routes in north-south or east-west paths that intersect to form logical L-shaped travel opportunities.  In fact, it's a great example of a grid system fitted to a gridless city.  Lines 2 and 6, and the more recent T3 tram that Cerovic renders as a quarter-circle, are really the only predominantly arc elements and even they function like east-west grid elements in the actual geography, 

In Madrid, Cerovic reveals the Expressionist quality of the metro network:  lots of emotive scribbles and personality quirks but without a clear structuring idea.  


The gently collapsed loop at the center reminds me of a Jean Arp sculpture.

In London, he ignores the obviously potential of the Circle Line, which despite its new tadpole shape could easily have been made into a perfect circle or oval.   Instead, the perfect circle that anchors his map is an emerging, ghostly London Overground, bristling with spurs:


I like Cerovic's maps for their stripped-down emphasis on the drama of line vs. loop.  Lines are from Mars and loops are from Venus.  They will never understand each other.  The challenge — in all the dimensions of design — is in making them dance, and helping both impulses succeed.


6 Responses to looking for structure: the metro maps of Jug Cerovic

  1. Harsha May 17, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

    While I understand your dislike of loops, I would like to point out that they can perform a useful function in allowing people to transfer between radial lines without everyone having to go to a crowded (and potentially farther) centre city interchange.

  2. el_slapper May 22, 2014 at 6:37 am #

    I’m not impressd by Parisian map. He hinted at suburban lines(as my “beloved” H line to Persan-Beaumont), but completely bypassed the RER lines.
    RER, especially its interior part, is bread & butter for Parisian transit. If I want to go from Gare Du Nord to Chatelet, taking the M4 would be a huge mistake, as RER B(or D) is far more efficient.
    May be a nice map, but it’s lying by omission.

  3. Vince May 24, 2014 at 1:18 am #

    Agreed. The maps are beautiful but the choice made to portrait suburban rail lines in shaded – “ghostly” – colors in Paris, Berlin and to a lesser extent London is detrimental to the usefulness of his maps. It degrades these suburban services to a secondary role, misrepresent their importance to the point that Paris’s tramlines looks of greater importance than its RER and Transilien networks.
    I know it was not your point to talk about the quality of his maps but since I have been introduced to them, I cannot get past that point. I would rather see them without any station names as it would then easily allow us to loose ourselves in to the rectified structures of those networks; letting merge new and unperceived patterns.
    Instead I cannot help myself to try to plan a trip and feel cheated by all the misrepresentations.

  4. Erik June 2, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    When I first looked at these, what ended up really bothering me was that they really don’t accurately represent the geography of the systems. The ends of lines are brought in way closer than they actually are, and often go in directions that are not even close the to the same. For example, on the Shanghai map, he has line 13(pink) going north off of line 4(a loop around the the main part of the city, the grid is now being filled in), when in fact it goes west. Even worse, he has line 16 heading the OPPOSITE direction, making it look like it is in inner Pudong when in fact it goes to the far eastern edge of the city.

  5. Wanderer June 9, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

    These maps do a good job of showing the internal relationship of stations within the self-contained environment of a heavy rail system. But they don’t tell you very much about where the stations are within the city. This kind of graphic wouldn’t work for most (non-BRT) bus systems. Bus passengers are–for better and for worse–much more connected to the city itself. Bus passengers rely on city street networks and landmarks to navigate.

  6. Miles Bader June 10, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    His Tokyo map is quite bad, he has omitted stations and arranged stuff quite differently than people expect, apparently just to make his map pretty.
    I’m not talking about “geographical accuracy—obviously almost no Tokyo rail maps are anywhere near geographically accurate, and there’s tons of variation between the layouts used by existing maps. However there are limits, and various large-scale patterns that people expect, and rely on to orient themselves. For instance, if there are various major stations that people think of as being in “the west”, you shouldn’t move half of them to “the south” if you expect people to be able to use your map. This is particularly true of a map as complicated as Tokyo.
    All in all, I don’t get any sense that he really has much skill at map-making; rather he seems like a designer who’s main goal is to make attractive images, and isn’t terribly concerned with functionality. Nothing wrong with that of course, but I wish people would be more careful about advocating the actual use of his maps.