The Ways of the Framers

August 2011
Featured in the Atlas of Design, Volume 1

We seem to like naming things after people; buildings, streets, awards, etc. Everywhere you look there are names on the landscape, meant to memorialize some historic figure deemed worthy. But it rarely works. Generations pass, and we no longer apprehend the significance of the fact that we live on Adams Street or walk past DeWaters Hall on our trip through campus. That’s just what they’re called; it doesn’t even occur to us that they share names with specific human beings.

When James Doty platted the first streets of Madison, Wisconsin, in 1836, he named them after the signers of the U.S. Constitution. Today, though, that connection is lost on many of its residents. They have no idea whom their street was meant to honor, nor know that many of the street names share this common theme. Inspired more than a little by the typographic maps from the folks at Axis Maps, I put together The Ways of the Framers, which aims to reconnect Madison’s modern citizens with the people their city was intended to memorialize.

The street grid is rendered using signatures traced off of a scan of the U.S. Constitution, and the background pattern is built up from the same scan. Handwriting is personal, and it putting it on the map is a way to give the reader a more direct human connection with the historical figure. It’s a different than simply reading a webpage about each figure. It puts a little bit of George Washington’s personality into the landscape, into the place where the reader lives.

Initially, only the streets which were named after the Framers of the Constitution were shown. Later, by popular request, I put together a version with some linework for those streets which are not. I go back and forth on which one I like more, but I've featured the latter here.

To download a copy of the map, or to buy a print, visit my blog.