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The art of map folding

Foldable, bendable smartphones and tablets are rumored to be in the works, so in a way, when that happens, you will also be able to “fold” your HERE maps. But it’s not quite the same as folding paper — an art that is part of ancient history and current culture. 

Paperfolding traditions originate in Europe, China and Japan — the country from which the most recognizable name for paper folding comes, “origami.” In fact, there are societies dedicated to preserving and forwarding the art.

A map from Egypt is one of the earliest known examples of paper folding, according to the late David Lister, once considered an authority on the history and culture of paper folding. The map was discovered in the Nubian Desert in 1150 BC and is of a gold mining district.

Lister wrote, “The Egyptian map is interesting for paperfolders because, ancient though it is, it is folded in the same manner as a modern road map.”

Oldest Known Map

image credit: cartographicimages.net

Do the math

Map folding is also a mathematical problem. In “combinatorial mathematics,” it is solved by an algorithm that computes the number of ways a map can be folded. This becomes exponential as the panels increase. For example, there are 40 foldings in a 4x2 map.

The map problem

image credit: Mathematica 7

Paper map folding techniques

The above shows a basic folding technique — only vertical and/or horizontal lines. Paradoxically, folds with vertical lines are called horizontal folds and vice versa. Cross folds are a combination of both.

A report on “Map Folding Techniques in the Digital Age,” identifies many map folding techniques, including the accordion fold, the “Turkish fold” (aka pop out), the “Miura fold” (a combination of accordion) and the Falk fold as traditional methods.

The Falk fold, for example, was patented in 1951 aimed at “removing the drawback to which folded maps are subject.” Essentially, parts of a map can fold separately from other parts, allowing for smaller, more readable maps that are quickly accessed and easily put away.

The ubiquity of technology now offers new ways to illustrate, blue print and calculate, resulting in new ways of folding that were not possible before with new materials.

Folding Techniques

New Folding

images credit: Stephan Angsüsser

Crumpled Map

image credit: Emanuele Pizzolorusso via Amazon


Make your own map

If all this talk of folding has awakened your inner artist, but you are diehard user of HERE technology, there’s a solution to satisfy both sides of the brain. Download a template, watch step by step (by step) instructions from hobbyman.se and you can make your own map.

Do it yourself map

image credit: hobbyman.se

Map memories

My grandfather was a member of AAA, an association in North America that provides motor services. As a member you could stop in any location and pick up a map. I think he had one for nearly every state – or at least for every state in the Eastern half of the country. The whole pile sat neatly in his glove compartment (they were cavernous in those days).

He would precisely plot mini road trips for the family on these big folding maps. Back then, you didn’t need reservations, there were quaint, welcoming motels all along the highways. Now, it’s hard to imagine even getting in the car to go around the block without a mobile phone, let alone taking a road trip without a HERE app.

After the trips, the maps were always neatly folded and put back — I could never understand how because when I tried, it didn’t turn out well. Tell us about your nostalgic map memories.

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