Richard Saul Wurman
Once upon a time, in the merry-go-round mind of Richard Saul Wurman, dwelt the mythological city of Could-Be. In this enlightened realm, ruled by a waggish Commissioner of Curiosity and Imagination:Skip to next paragraph
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* IQ tests are replaced by SOH (Sense of Humor) examinations - the ''true'' measure of intelligence - and given to all public officials.
* A city-sponsored ''Wait Watchers Program'' improves the quality of bus stops, subway stations, airports, and other waiting places.
* The Museum of Failure commemorates the Edsel, Brasilia, and other magnificent goofs, as ''delayed successes.'' (When upper-crust Could-Beians learn they no longer need to impress one another with success stories, the cocktail party, as a form of social entertainment, disappears.)
When the P.T. Barnum of American architecture cracks his pawky whip, conventional wisdom stands on its head and stodginess flees the fairgrounds. The irreverent Richard Saul Wurman, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), is an internationally known mapmaker and designer who ''as far as I know, '' says one colleague, ''has never been victimized by a minute of graphic design training.'' His architectural genius, says Italian graphic designer Massimo Vignelli, is ''on the cutting-edge side, where the fun is.''
The latest attraction in Wurman's three-ring design circus is a remarkable New York City guidebook. Released a few weeks ago, it is being applauded as the best Baedeker ever to bite into the Big Apple. Elegantly designed, the 248-page Michelin Guide-size compendium is the inspired work of a Wurman access team of a dozen pithy writers.
It is jammed with some 3,000 entries, delicious urban trivia (tips on everything from how to play Italian boccie to where to buy faucets and equestrian whips), original art by painters Jim Dine and Robert Kulicke, advice from such seasoned rangers of ''Skyscraper National Park'' as Walter Cronkite, Beverly Sills, and Jimmy Breslin, and more. The book's premise (information is art, and vice versa) is nowhere better exemplified than in Wurman's own intelligent, uncluttered maps of Gotham.
''NYC/Access'' - the fifth in a series of guidebooks which have included Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hawaii, and football - is part of Wurman's bold venture into the ''architecture of information.'' In the coming year he will focus his cartographer's ''compulsion to order chaos'' on New Orleans, Washington, D.C., hospitals, baseball, the Olympics, and a history of American product design called ''A Paper Clip and 299 Other Things.''
''You might wonder,'' wonders Wurman, '' 'Why is a Jewish boy from Philadelphia, who lives in Los Angeles, now doing a book on New York?' '' Like his alter ego, the Commissioner of Curiosity and Imagination, Wurman ''prefers good questions to brilliant answers.'' (In 1976 Wurman created his Could-Be Commissioner in a ''keynote fable'' when he chaired the AIA's national convention.) He further admitted that ''I'm no expert on San Francisco, I've only visited Hawaii for 12 days, and I did the L.A. book because I couldn't find my way around.''
In 1980, after just six months in Los Angeles, Wurman convinced the city's bicentennial committee he was the man to map the illogical metropolis because he was always getting lost there. Veteran Angelenos, Wurman argued, were too familiar with their city. (As one wag put it: ''We don't know who first discovered water, but we can be sure it wasn't a fish.'') Wurman's chutzpah informed him that anyone can learn any subject ''in about a week,'' if (a) He wants to badly enough, or (b) his back is to the wall.
After charming L.A.'s city fathers, Wurman recruited Frank Stanton, former president of CBS, to put up his capital in return for 50 percent of Wurman's new Los Angeles-based publishing company, Access Press Ltd. Wurman then printed 60, 000 copies of a 144-page guidebook called ''LA/Access peels back the Big Orange, '' distributed it out of his garage, and then collected kudos. (''You've gotta have 'LA/Access,' '' thundered Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. ''Arduous but magnificent,'' cheered the late architect and visionary R. Buckminster Fuller. Illustrator R. O. Blechman added the kicker: ''Bright and fun-kist.'')