Upside Down Washington

Thanks to a mixture of history, geography, and custom, north is up on almost every map made in the world. Some attribute the practice to the ancient Egyptian scholar Ptolemy, however thanks to the distribution of landmass in the world the most prolific mapmaking civilizations have called the northern hemisphere home.

So-called upside down maps (or to Wikipedia, ‘reversed’ maps‘) have existed at least since 1943, when Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres-García created a map that placed the South Pole at the top to make a philosophical statement. Today upside down maps are popular among educators, Australians, and one even made its way into an episode of the TV program the West Wing. Upside down maps of smaller geographic areas are more rare, however one company has made such a map of the state of California.

What would such a map look like for our own Washington region? This map places the southwest towards the top, an alignment suggested by the natural geography of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers.

Upside Down Washington

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. While I understand the idea behind it, for localized areas like DC, and Washington DC most especially, it just doesn’t work. Since our streets are laid out on a grid that was specifically designed to run North-South, changing the alignment in a way that destroys that plan just doesn’t make sense except as something that’s intentionally disorienting. See: DC Taxi Maps.

  2. The majority of streets shown on the map above are curvilinear suburban streets. Postmodern sprawl has cut loose from fixed geographic orientation.

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