People are quite cognizant of their abilities to orient themselves in an urban environment. For each person who extols their good sense of direction, you get just as many who admit they are terrible at finding their way around. A variety of tactics are employed, such as knowledge of the street grid, the use of landmarks (in particular Sutro Tower, the Ferry Building and St. Mary’s Cathedral, aka “the washing machine building), referencing public transit lines, proximity to the ocean or bay, and in one case, watching the fog roll in from the west. A number of people are also very dependent on using Google Maps or their smart phones, where the orientation of the city is fixed, with the standard North at the top of the page.
Asking people to sketch maps of the city and their neighborhoods, we’re reminded that this doesn’t have to be the case. This series of maps, titled (Dis|Re)Orientation invite the user to either disorient or reorient themselves (possibly both) with what may be a less familiar view of the city. For those in the Richmond or Sunset, perhaps it makes much more sense to orient the page with North on the right, and the Pacific Ocean at the top. For those in the Mission, maybe it’s more intuitive to have Mission and Valencia running left to right rather than up and down. Does the city feel more expansive with what used to be its bottom half now at its top? To emphasize its importance, maybe it makes sense to see Market street running upright, rather than at a 45 degree angle, shifting the street grid around it. The maps all contain the same features and symbology: street centerlines (from sfgov.org), the Muni light rail lines, public transportation stops, neighborhood names and a number of landmark features that may be useful for orienting yourself.