Immersive Space


This semester we have been exposed to a series of maps, in books, online, and in libraries. However I had not been exposed to one on the scale of what Paula Shear has created with the map “Philadelphia Explained”. My critique intends to provide a sense of the map Paula Scher  designed, state how it compares to a conventional map an individual would use to tour  the city of Philadelphia, and why her map is significant.

Paula Shear, in partnership with her Design firm “Pentagram,”  designed a map of the city of Philadelphia, which was the home of her alma mater, the Tyler School of Art. The map is an aerial view of the city. The map highlights the interstates, streets, and historical locations throughout the city.According to, it provides one with “a sense of the city” as they “step into” what is considered “a real map of the city”.

Paula Shear created an immersive experience, while most maps are observed as an aerial view or straight on. When one thinks of an immersive experience it conjures up an image of a virtual reality world where an individual would be required to wear headsets to enter an environment created by designer and Developers. An example of a virtual world is Immersive Entertainment’s Grand Canon Virtual experience. The user can put on the VR lenses and  allows users to canoe, swim and walk through the environment. What I really like about this map is that Paula Shear provides an immersive experience for anyone who steps into this physical space without having to use  technology. The map occupies the entire 2000 square feet of the gallery space and was on exhibit for a limited time in July of 2015. She accomplished this by creating a template that filled the architectural space. Her map is different from a conventional map in many ways. It is intended to be used to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible, it will even allow users to figure out how long it will take for them to travel there. For example a conventional map is very accurate, the scale of everything is proportionate to the scale of the map. Standard maps also come with a guide in order for a person to determine miles.  This allows them to calculate how many miles they have to travel in order to get to their destination and shows them where the rest stops are. Every single road is accounted for in order for an individual to find their exact location.

Paula Scher’s map in contrast to a conventional map was created in a space one can be fully immersed in. Many of the locals who visit are able to walk through the space and recall places they have visited or consider visiting a new sites after viewing the map. What I found interesting in the development of the map was its collaborative aspect. It allowed 154 individuals consisting of students and “Pentagram” employees to fill in the details of the map. The designer provided a broad scope of the city of Philadelphia and the students painted the details and gave a narrow scope of Philadelphia. Not only did the students incorporate accurate landmarks using Google maps but they incorporated their own descriptive narrative into the story. In one location of the map one sees the words “Vroom, Vroom, Mom we are going to be late” which personalizes the Map.Although the map has over 154 contributors, there is still a sense of of consistency. She achieved this by providing the contributors with a reference of scale for the words and roads.

Another aspect I thought was fascinated by in viewing this map was the use of fonts. This provides a visual hierarchy. The largest and boldest elements on the map are the interstate numbers. Then a slightly smaller font follows the zip codes to finally the smallest fonts represent historical locations and roads.

Although I appreciate many aspects of this map I realize it is not a data driven map. It provides no sense of timeline, no location based information providing the details as to where exactly you are in the map, instead it becomes an art piece where an individual will interpret the details for what they see and not appreciate the effort made to create a visual hierarchy by the designer. Her map is intentionally different from a conventional map and is nevertheless successful in its intent.

If this were a data driven map it would highlight the most-driven roads, the most-visited historical locations and the most-populous areas in the city. It think this type of information would benefit and be useful for individuals who don’t know the area. There is an element I think I would find interesting to incorporate into the map that would be and sound. When an individual steps into a corner there could be sirens or individuals talking.

Individuals could learn if they are standing in a highly trafficked area of quiet area. This map is intended for anyone who visits the space and I believe it would provide individuals with different emotions. For those who know and love Philadelphia they might appreciate the perspective in which Paula Shear has drawn the map.

This map breaks the mold of how most data driven maps are created. I intend to use this design as reference I develop a map that shows the proximity of the popular bra stores in NYC.

In the map prototype I created I drew the shape of a standard bra. I then overlaid that shape over a map of NYC in order get a general perspective of where central park was located and map where the main avenues that run above and below central park. I then mapped the locations of the Lululemon, Victoria’s Secret and custom bra shops located throughout the city. Once I overlaid all the maps on top of one another I was able to see how far each shop one was located from one another.


How could someone use this map I provided? If an individual was interested in creating a bra startup and wanted to have a brick and mortar located in NYC they could use this map to evaluate where the competition would be in their area.