Every time a new addition is made to the Tube map, it gets a little more crowded. The clean lines of Harry Beck's original get a little more confusing. Where will we be 100 years from now, when additional lines, stations, cable cars, hover rails and levipads are added to the diagram?
Slapping a third dimension onto the map could be one solution. The extra depth allows for extra layers of information.
We've had a first stab at visualising the Tube network in three dimensions, using Google Sketchup to build the model. Like the original 2-D map, it bears little resemblance to geography and is largely schematic. A line's depth in the model does not indicate its depth or direction in real life. Instead, this is simply a visualisation of how all the stations link together.
As in Beck's map, we've used simple and consistant geometries to connect stations. Horizontal and vertical lines are all of equal length, as are all the diagonals. Where multiple lines connect two stations (e.g. Circle-District lines), we've coloured the sides of each rectangle to reflect this — rotate the map to see them.
The result? Well, it's a confusing tangle. As a navigational aid, it fails, and we offer it only as a conversation piece. But, maybe when we're all walking round with virtual reality goggles or interacting with holographic projections, someone with more brains and better software can find a way to use the third dimension to advantage rather than perplexity.
How to view the map
The screengrabs above only give a snapshot of the map, and you might want to play with it yourself. The easiest way is to get the Google Earth plugin for Google Maps, in which case, you'll be able to twiddle with the model right now in the embedded map below (if you don't have the plugin, you'll just see Google Maps).
Alternatively, you can download the file from Google's 3D Warehouse here and load it into Google Sketchup, free to download from here (and fun to play with, so worth getting anyhow). This gives a clearer and easier to handle model, which you'll also be able to edit.