Mapping 20th century architecture around the world

This article was first published on Open Journal On October 27, 2017. Images by Blue Crow Media.

Blue Crow Media is a London-based independent publisher of 20th century architecture guides from around the world.

Their maps include Brutalist, Modernist, Art Deco, Constructivist and Concrete maps for cities including London, Tokyo, New York, Washington, Moscow, Paris, Berlin and Boston. Each printed map is highly detailed, beautifully designed, and thoroughly researched.

Earlier this year, Blue Crow Media, with the help of Glenn Harper (architect, and creator of the Sydney Brutalism audio tour), released their first Australian map, Brutalist Sydney. It features 50 striking examples of Brutalist architecture across the city (like the well-known Sirius building and UTS Tower) and suburbs, including Curl Curl, Penrith, Sutherland and Pennant Hills.

We spoke to Blue Crow Media publisher and founder Derek Lamberton about his love of architecture and how he came to translate that into city guides and maps.

How did you come to start Blue Crow Media?

I started Blue Crow Media in 2009, initially making map-based city guide apps, before shifting to print in 2012. I wanted to publish niche guides about overlooked subjects, and found print to be a more sensible way to do this.

Where does your love of architecture stem from? 

I’ve always been interested in architecture and cities. I grew up in Washington, DC which is not necessarily a city known for its architecture, but it does have a few gems… notably Harry Weese‘s metro system, the design of which had a strong impact on me as a child. I loved the sense of entering into another dimension when descending the escalators. The design was so unique and unlike anything else I interacted with in Washington.


Image credit: Blue Crow Media


What made you want to capture and share that with others through the city maps and guides?

Exploring architecture is a wonderful way to discover a city. It brings you to different neighbourhoods, it often ensures you interact with a city’s public transport, or ride a bicycle or walk – all things that really give you a sense of the place.

A printed map gives you an idea of the city’s scale and breadth, and allows you to plot and create itineraries. I suppose it is how I like to travel, I dislike referencing my smartphone, especially when I am somewhere new, somewhere that I want to see and experience.

A map forces you to create reference points and to consider what is ahead of you, so you can focus on what is in front of you, rather than checking your map app at every corner to ensure you are on the right track.

The city maps are beautiful and detailed. What attracted you to print?

Digital doesn’t lend itself to a certain type of aesthetic and it lacks a sense of longevity. Print is a much more enjoyable medium to work with and being reliant on carefully curated independent bookstores is more my speed than relying on the app store which is full of junk.

What is the process involved in creating each of the city maps? 

I decide a title and then look for the right people to edit and shoot each map. Once the title is decided, and an editor is selected, the editor will send over an initial list of buildings.

If it is affordable, the designer, Jaakko, and I will visit the city and tour the buildings to try to get some aesthetic ideas, things like unique fonts or a colour palette, and to identify footprints, decide on the scale and how best to layout the map.

There is an exchange with the editor to decide which buildings to shoot, and often how to add some variety to the selection. I commission photographs, and the designer gets to work. We have worked together for years now, and have a pretty smooth operation.

How do you choose which cities will feature in your maps?

The margins in map publishing are obviously tight, so I do have to be careful. This means cities like New York, London and Tokyo are the current focus with the hope that they will generate enough revenue to cover cities with less commercial potential.

My personal interest is Eastern Europe, but I have to balance out my interests with keeping the business afloat. Fortunately, we have a supportive customer base who are wonderful about buying new maps as they come out. They keep the operation moving forward.

Do you have a favourite style of architecture? Or a favourite city?

I am obviously drawn to Brutalism and architecture of that era. My favourite city we’ve mapped is Belgrade. It’s such a vibrant, interesting and accessible city and the architecture is outstanding throughout the former Yugoslavia.

Was there anything you found interesting or surprising in creating the Brutalist Sydney map? 

Glenn Harper was terrific to work with and we had a lot of support from Tim Horton [Registrar, NSW Architects Registration Board] who organised the Sydney Architecture Festival.

The activists working to keep buildings like Sirius standing are inspirational. I have never seen a group have that level of success and also the ability to maintain momentum. Hats off to all of them. I hope their methods and enthusiasm are contagious.

Learn more about Blue Crow Media’s architecture maps and guides here.