Mapping Vignelli: A Conversation Between Massimo Vignelli and Michael Beirut on 1972 Subway Map

September 12, 2012   6:00 pm   
New York Transit Museum
Boerum Pl. & Schermerhorn St.
$15; $10 for members of the New York Transit Museum
Purchase tickets online.

When a new edition of a subway map becomes the centerfold in Men’s Vogue, you know it has grown from a guide into a work of art. On September 12th, Massimo Vignelli and his design partners Beatriz Cifuentes and Yoshi Waterhouse will speak with Michael Beirut about their famous and controversial 1972 New York City subway diagram and its new appearance in the MTA’s Weekender. It will be an exciting discussion with a design team respected worldwide and hugely influential on the city of New York.

Vignelli’s subway diagram is a hallmark of modernist elegance, distilling New York’s huge, complicated transit system into a sequence of straight lines, rainbow colors and black dots. Although the diagram was replaced in 1979, it remained iconic in the design world. In 2008 and 2012, Vignelli updated his diagram to account for changes in station names and toned down the color scheme, adopting uniform colors for each line. For example, the 4-5-6 line changed from pink, gray and orange, respectively, to all green. Since one of the largest criticisms leveled at the 1972 diagram was the deceiving square shape of Central Park, Vignelli simplified the new version by removing parks entirely.

Because of its straight-forward, angular layout, Vignelli’s forty year old diagram fit well in a digital format. In September 2011, it was adapted for the MTA’s Weekender web feature which instantaneously conveys transportation changes to riders. Out of service lines appear faded and blinking dots alert commuters to construction projects at stations. Clicking on a station dot gives more detailed information. Its popularity led MTA to release a Weekender app for the iPhone last June.

Born in Italy, Massimo Vignelli started the Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture in Milan in 1960 with his wife and fellow designer Lella Vignelli. In 1965, they began work with Unimark International Corporation designing signs for the New York subway system. Six years later, Vignelli Associates was founded, producing the official New York City subway diagram in 1972.

Michael Beirut worked for Vignelli Associates for ten years before becoming a partner at Pentagram in 1990. He recently led a Pentagram team in designing the new logo for the Grand Central Terminal Centennial. He is a founder of the critical blog Design Observer. At this special Transit Museum event, Beirut will lead a lively, informal discussion with Vignelli, Cifuentes and Waterhouse. This will be followed by a brief Q and A. Signed and numbered subway diagrams (limited edition of 1,000) will be available for purchase for $500 each.

About New York Transit Museum:
The New York Transit Museum is the largest museum in the United States devoted to urban public transportation history. The Museum explores the development of the greater New York metropolitan region through the presentations of exhibitions, tours, educational programs and workshops dealing with the cultural, social and technological history of public transportation. The Museum is housed in a historic 1936 IND subway station in Brooklyn Heights and operates a Gallery Annex in Grand Central Terminal that presents changing exhibitions. As custodian and interpreter of the region’s extensive public transportation networks, the Museum strives to share through its public programs their rich and vibrant history with local, regional, and international audiences.