The Mapparium, a Stained-Glass Globe You Can Stand Inside
No matter how hard they try, most maps have an image problem. They’re flat, while the Earth (spoiler alert) is not, and the difficulty of squashing a spherical shape onto a flat object produces all kinds of distortions.
The Mapparium in the Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston lets you experience the Earth’s geography without as many compromises. The room includes a three-story, stained glass globe that you can actually walk inside of and, as Dylan Thuras of Atlas Obscura notes in the video above, the continents are reproduced in perfect relative scale. That means you can get an accurate sense of how big (or small) Texas really is, compared to, say, Greenland.
Many of the features on the map are not, however, accurately labeled, at least in the way we would recognize them today. The labels on the glass are stuck in 1935, the year the map debuted in the Christian Science Publishing Society building. The building’s architect, Chester Lindsay Churchill, saw the Mapparium (originally called “the Glass Room” or “the Globe Room”) as a symbol for the global outreach of The Christian Science Monitor. The panels were originally designed to be replaceable—Churchill must have known 1935’s political boundaries and national names wouldn’t last forever—but Christian Science officials have seen fit to keep it preserved as a work of art, rather than something that should be constantly edited.
Today, the room also functions as an example of a whispering gallery—a spherical or circular room with acoustics that allow a person whispering in one corner to be heard in another, even if it’s relatively far away (Grand Central Terminal includes a famous example). The Mapparium’s shape also creates other interesting acoustical features—people speaking in the middle of the room will sound much louder than usual. It’s a fun place to stand while you try to pronounce all the names of places that no longer exist.