Monday, 22 March 2010

Book - Atlas of the new Dutch Water Defence Line - Colour Seduction

A book you don't want to give out of your hands for its beautiful cartography and graphic design overall. Well it goes in the tradition of Atlases designed by Jost Grootens. He has only recently received the Rotterdam Design Prize for the set of atlases he designed for 010 Publishers so far. Those are the Groten KAN Atlas, the Metropolitan World Atlas, the Limes Atlas and the Vinex Atlas.
The now published 'Atlas of the New Dutch Water Defence Line' edited by Rita Brons and Bernhard Colenbrander, designed by Studio Joost Grootens and published by 010 Publishers adds an other chapter to this 'series'. It continues with the power full use of colour that already the 'Metropolitan World Atlas' made so attractive, but this new publication makes a lot better use of the overall appearance. It is a real gem.
In the first place it is the cartography you will be looking at, but beside this the book actually has a true subject. And this is simply as the title says the Dutch Water Defence Line. Actually this is about defense in a proper military sense, and not as you might have guessed while already seduced by the pretty colours about water defense. Since it is set in the Netherlands it could have been about water drainage and pumping systems to fight the storm flooding of vital agricultural land, but its not. It is about a specific element of Dutch history, built between 1815 and 1885 as a "technically accurate territorial military system" (Johan van der Zwart abd Clemens Steenbergen in Atlas of the New Dutch Water Defence Line, p.28)
In a nutshell the military conceptis to defend the territory by simply flooding a stretch of land and in this way make it impossible for any land based mode of transport to traverse. It sounds very effect full and simple, but is actually a rather complicated piece of infrastructure and engineering. A detailed system of canals and basins are laid out in such a way as to create, by opening strategically positioned flood gates, a man made flood zone.
The whole system is based on the element the Netherlands has enough anyway and since water has its very own rules the given parameters are tight. Not only from the water element but also in terms of the landscape. In this sense, the here documented military defense structure is in a very strong way trying to make the most of a successful management of possibilities over constraints. This results ins a strongly context based solution, that is unique to this exact location and circumstances and paints a beautiful portrait of the character of an entire region.

Image taken from 010 Publishers / Showing a spread of the publication.

As hinted in the introduction, the graphics, cartography and design overall are brilliant. Especially the colour schema used for the maps is intriguing. In terms of the graphic design even this book is not protected from mistakes and problems. Everyone who is working with maps and plans knows these painful moments when you have a strong concept and clear structure and then for some elements it just doesn't work out. A name is too long to fit in the desired space in the key, in one summary map suddenly two colours representing important information cancel each other out or the approach chosen for one element does not fit for another or in other scales. It is sort of a tradeoff and ad-hoc adjustment job one has to do, restricting damage while hoping the final product may remain close to the desired result. This sounds all very pain full, I know, and it actually is. However, this process can be used to continue developing the strategy and representation and ideally will raise the quality of the end product over the initially thought out concept. Still some minor problems will always be there and the quality of the end product is probably more about these are managed and integrated than how good the anyway functioning elements are developed. I believe this publication managed this process extremely well and the final product is great.
For me the main issue with the graphic elements in this publication is the representation of the forts. This being the central element of focus it plays many roles and obviously a single representation can't be able to play all of them equally well. The colouring of the water protecting the forts as well as the pink used for the fill are not always consistent with the overall context of the maps.
The maps actually come with quite extensive background information in the form of essays and I think it is worth pointing this out because of the almost over powering presence of the cartography. I kind of owe it to this review that I have actually read and tried to understand the background, because otherwise I am pretty sure I would have been (still am) simply seduced by the pretty pictures and had satisfied put the publication to the top of my pile of inspirations. But going beyond the graphics starts opening up a perspective on a cultural territorial identity of a region that is even more inspiring and actually informative.
In this sense there is a hidden treasure in this book, but one needs to battle the dragon of seduction first, a fight I am bound to loose, at times. This one is definitely worth the effort already for the beauty of an bright orange or pink.
A book, or even a series, that has definitely already set a standard and will let loose a trend.

Image taken from Kosmograd / Showing a spread of the publication.

See also reviews on mammoth and Kosmograd.

Brons, R. & Colenbrander, B. eds., 2009. New Dutch Water Defence Line, 010 Publishers.

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