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Design

Amazing City Maps That Look Like They're Made of Wood

A San Francisco mapmaker’s work appears so real you can smell the varnish.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.Melody Cao/Mapbox

Melody Cao is a freelance map designer in San Francisco; most of the work she does involves moving data and pixels around. But she also loves woodworking. Her new project has found a way to combine those interests: She creates digital maps of world cities designed to look like they were hewn from exquisitely finished kinds of wood, so convincingly craftsy you can almost smell the beeswax finish.

Different surface types have different textures—there’s a nice maple for certain buildings, while water has a wave-y bird’s eye veneer. The result is an interactive and antique store-worthy view of the world produced via Mapbox Studio Classic, based on data from OpenStreetMap, that references the intricate inlaid patterns used in cabinets, tables, and other kinds of quality furniture. “I looked for photos of real wood online and used different species for different layers of the map,” Cao says. “For example, I used a walnut-burl veneer texture for land use areas and red oak for schools and hospitals.” (She also color-adjusted some of the “woods” to maximize the map’s contrast.)