1 Way To Swerve

I’ve been look­ing late­ly the work of a man named Richard Saul Wur­man. Trained as an archi­tect, he entered into acad­e­mia at the moment in the mid-1960s when the norms of prac­tice were thrown into ques­tion. He con­cen­trat­ed on two things that are again of the moment today – mak­ing maps and pub­li­ca­tions. He would come to a school as a vis­i­tor and make elab­o­rate maps with a group of stu­dents; this was right before GIS became the most like­ly line of approach. No pro­pos­al was made. He took part in more or less bien-pen­sant activ­i­ties – dis­cus­sions of what was to be done, where the dis­cus­sion itself was ulti­mate­ly all that was done. (This is a hard thing to accept even today.) In so doing, he embod­ied one pop­u­lar con­tem­po­rary def­i­n­i­tion of what archi­tec­tur­al prac­tice could be — a cir­cu­la­tion of tools for living. 

Over time, as he aged into the 1980s, this ten­den­cy evolved in a few dif­fer­ent direc­tions. On one hand, he increas­ing­ly moved into design­ing trav­el guides — today, odd lit­tle relics of the cur­rent­ly for­got­ten inter­val between desk­top pub­lish­ing and the ubiq­ui­tous inter­net. And on the oth­er, he was one of the founders of TED Talks.

Wur­man was not a fail­ure; he did not die alone in a gar­ret; he did not aban­don what he was taught. He did not become irrel­e­vant. He was trans­lat­ed, you might say, to anoth­er plane. 

wurman stl
One of Wurman's demographic maps of St. Louis.

(February 2019)