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OHNY Stacks: The New York Subway Map Debate

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Join OHNY in a conversation between Gary Hustwit and Saundra Thomas about the iconic debate that shaped the future of the NYC subway map.

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Form or function? This age-old design question comes to a head in The New York Subway Map Debate, a new book that brings to life an iconic debate between Italian designer Massimo Vignelli and cartographer John Tauranac over the future of the NYC Subway Map in 1978. On that pivotal evening inside Cooper Union’s Great Hall, Vignelli argued with Tauranac—then the chairman of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority’s map committee—in a heated debate about abstraction versus realism, simplicity versus complexity, and form versus function in the design of the NYC subway map. Once lost to history, the discovery of a lost audio recording by documentary filmmaker Gary Hustwit sheds light on this watermark moment in design history, where Vignelli attempted to defend his abstract map of the subway system against a more accurate and detailed one favored by Tauranac. The aftermath of this conversation would leave an indelible impact on the future of design, geography, transit cartography, and visual language.

Readers will feel themselves transported into a hyper-specific window of New York design history with the book’s full transcript of the historic debate and contentious discussion that followed with designers, transit officials, and subway riders. The book also includes never-before-seen photographs of the evening by Stan Ries, plus new interviews with original participants of the discussion, and an insightful foreword by designer and map artist Paula Scher.

Join Open House New York for a discussion with editor Gary Hustwit and OHNY Board Member Saundra Thomas about this great debate that will appeal to straphangers, commuters, and designers alike.

Purchase The New York Subway Map Debate here.


This event will be hosted live on Zoom. You will receive the link to the event content in your order confirmation email, and in a reminder email before the event starts. The event will be recorded and shared with all ticket buyers.

Note: AIA CES credits are pending.

Author Bio

Gary Hustwit is a filmmaker and visual artist based in New York. He has produced 13 feature documentaries, including Helvetica, the world’s first feature-length documentary about graphic design typography. Gary’s films have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the South by Southwest Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival, among others. He was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Helvetica, and has served on the grand juries of the Sundance Film Festival, the IFP Gotham Awards, and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. His film and photographic work has been featured in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art New York, Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, Design Museum London, Venice Biennale, Paul Kasmin Gallery New York, Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, Storefront for Art and Architecture New York, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea, and the Colette Gallery in Paris, among others.

OHNY Stacks

OHNY Stacks is a series of virtual book talks exploring the unknown, the unseen, and the unnoticed. Join us on Thursdays, 5:30—6:30pm ET through February with authors of highly acclaimed books critical to understanding the past, present, and future of New York—as well as national trends or global issues that influence the shape, structure, and experience of cities and urban life today. 

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Organizer Open House New York

Organizer of OHNY Stacks: The New York Subway Map Debate

Open House New York (OHNY) is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. The mission of OHNY is to promote a greater appreciation of the city’s built environment; broaden public awareness by exposing diverse audiences to distinctive examples of architecture, engineering and design; educate and inspire discussion of issues of excellence in design, planning and preservation; and showcase outstanding new work as well as structures of historic merit. 

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