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Watercolor Maptiles—a web-based, open-source mapping tool designed by Stamen Design that displays OpenStreetMap’s data with the hand-hewn textures of watercolor paint—has been acquired by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum for its digital design collection. It is the Smithsonian’s first acquisition of a live website into its collections, consisting of over 56 million map tiles (separate png image files) and the underlying code. In addition to archiving these assets, a duplicate copy of the live site will be maintained as a Smithsonian version, prioritizing the free access and interactivity that is inherent to the work.
Watercolor Maptiles breaks from traditional online cartography by emphasizing aesthetics at the same level as representational accuracy. The marks on the screen are based on real-world data, and the mapmakers have taken liberties with the rendering process to emphasize that the maps are the product of human–computer interaction, not the end result of faceless robotic activity. Water is rendered in blues mixed with turquoise and violet; green spaces are yellow, forest and muddy greens; terrain is a combination of peaches, browns and violet; motorways are oranges, reds and browns; buildings are lavender gray. The colors retain the texture of rough paper. A wet-wash technique results in darker tones where the pigment accumulated and disperses in lighter hues. The aesthetic recaptures the tactility and hand-hewn nature of physical maps, which are qualities that are often lost with digital maps, while being rooted firmly in the open data ethos and global nature of the OpenStreetMap project.
In addition to the over 56 million map tiles (individual 256 by 256 pixel png image files) and the underlying code, Cooper Hewitt has acquired printed maps made by Stamen Design when the website first launched. The museum has also generated extensive documentation around its efforts, including designer interviews; video documentation navigating the native site; and a substantial research dossier tracking all assets, changes and the acquisition process.
About Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Cooper Hewitt is America’s design museum. Inclusive, innovative and experimental, the museum’s dynamic exhibitions, education programs, master’s program, publications and online resources inspire, educate and empower people through design. An integral part of the Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum, education and research complex—Cooper Hewitt is located on New York City’s Museum Mile in the historic, landmark Carnegie Mansion. Steward of one of the world’s most diverse and comprehensive design collections—over 215,000 objects that range from an ancient Egyptian faience cup dating to about 1100 BC to contemporary 3D-printed objects and digital code—Cooper Hewitt welcomes everyone to discover the importance of design and its power to change the world. Cooper Hewitt knits digital into experiences to enhance ideas, extend reach beyond museum walls and enable greater access, personalization, experimentation and connection.
For more information, visit www.cooperhewitt.org or follow @cooperhewitt on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
About Stamen Design
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