John Tauranac

Credit: Andy Chaiken


John Tauranac writes on New York City’s architectural history, he teaches the subject, he lectures on the city and gives tours, and he designs maps.

Tauranac’s books include The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark, which was first published by Scribner in 1995 and has now been reprinted by Cornell University Press, as well as the three editions of New York from the Air (Harry Abrams), with photographs by the great aerial photographer, Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

He is also the author of Elegant New York: The Buildings and the Builders, 1885–1915 (Abbeville Press, 1985; reprinted, 1996); Essential New York: A Guide to the History and Architecture of Manhattan’s Important Buildings, Parks, and Bridges (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1979); The View From the 86th Floor: The Empire State Building and New York City (Tauranac Press, various editions, 1998–2010); Seeing New York: The Official MTA Travel Guide (Popular Library-CBS, 1976); and the guidebooks for MTA’s Culture Bus Loops I and II (Municipal Art Society, 1974 and 1975).

Tauranac’s articles have appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, The New York Observer, Travel & Leisure, New York Newsday, Seaport Magazine, and other publications. He has written entries for both editions of Kenneth T. Jackson’s Encyclopedia of New York City (Yale, 1995, 2010), and for The Oxford Companion to United States History (Paul S. Boyer, ed., Oxford, 2001).

Tauranac’s first published maps were New York Magazine’s “Undercover Maps,” which were published in 1972 and 1973. Those maps showed how to stay dry in the wet and warm in the cold by navigating passageways through and under buildings in Midtown and Lower Manhattan.

Maintaining his mole’s eye perspective, Tauranac chaired the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s subway map committee for the bulk of its existence in the mid- and late 1970s, and he was the creative director, or “guiding light,” of the official New York City Subway Map that was published in 1979. That map won its share of kudos – an editorial in The New York Times (“The Best Subway Map in Years”), a review by the Times architectural critic, Paul Goldberger (“At Last, A Usable Subway Map”), and a Commendation for Design Excellence awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He oversaw the creation of dozens of other transportation maps for the MTA, and he has designed maps for Historic Battery Park, Avenue Magazine, the Parks Council, both the Grand Central and Lincoln Square Business Improvement Districts, the Aviation Division of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, both editions of Kenneth T. Jackson’s Encyclopedia of New York City (Yale University Press), and the most recent edition of New York From the Air (Harry Abrams).

Maps that are published under the Tauranac imprint include Manhattan Block By Block: A Street Atlas, which was first published in 2000 and is now in its fifth edition, and several different takes on mapping public transportation in New York City. Tauranac Maps publishes a subway system map that is schematic, or diagrammatic, on one side, and geographic on the other; three 8-panel maps of Manhattan in various combinations – subways and buses, subways and streets, buses and streets – as well as a little Manhattan subway- and bus map that folds down to fit in a credit-card case. Despite this map’s petite size, it is remarkably clear and legible. Clarity is king.

Tauranac has been teaching New York’s architectural history for over 30 years at NYU's School of Professional Studies, where he is an adjunct associate professor. In 2006, the school presented him with its Award for Teaching Excellence.

He has given lectures and tours for the Museum of the City of New York, the Municipal Art Society, the South Street Seaport Museum, the New York City Transit Museum, the Department of Special Affairs for the Mayor's Office, the Skyscraper Museum, the Art Deco Society of New York, and lectures aboard the Queen Elizabeth II on a westbound trans-Atlantic voyage.

Tauranac was named a Centennial Historian of the City of New York by the Mayor's Office for his work in history in 1999.

Tauranac is a graduate of Columbia’s School of General Studies, where he majored in English literature and minored in history. He did his graduate work in American urban history at NYU’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

He lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with his wife, Jane Bevans, an artist and lawyer. They are both native New Yorkers. Their daughter, Maggie Tauranac, and her husband, Evan Bardot, live nearby.

Selected Works

It took Tauranac longer to research and write the book than the architects and builders took to design and construct the building. That seems to put the miracle of the building into perspective.
The great aerial photographer, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, whose photographs absolutely sparkle, is the star of this book, and he gets – and deserves – top billing. Tauranac is just happy to be playing in the orchestra.
The New York Times said that Manhattan Block By Block: A Street Atlas "offers just about all the critical information a site-seeker might need – and then some."

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