Schwarzplan - Easy tutorial how to make "figure-ground diagram" from scratch.

In this article I will explain how to make schwarzplan of any place, or city in the world in a few easy steps using your own computer. I originally done this tutorial in Slovak language, and it had great sucess - so I devote this article to my not slovak-speaking friends 🙂 If you are not really to theory, just jump to tutorial bellow.

 To sucesfull schwarzplan you will need internet acess and one program - Adobe Illustrator. In the past I used another program (Acrobat Reader Pro) but Illustrator way is much less complicted, and took 1/10 time as using another program.

So what is this Schwarzplan about ? Sometimes you can find another synonyms like black plan, or figure-ground diagram. If someone tells you to spell something out in black and white, they want you to express yourself clearly. No beating around bushes, no grey areas but definite distinctions.

If you were to demand this of a map, the explanation would probably be given in the form of what in German is known as the ‘Schwarzplan’. Two simple words fused together. Black. Plan. The straightforwardness of its German name expresses perfectly the concept it denotes: The representation of an area in terms of black and white, respectively indicating mass and void. Sadly, the English name for the same thing isn’t a calque of the German, black-plan, but the less dramatic and wordy ‘figure-ground diagram’. Imagine the following scenarios, one in a German architectural office, the other in its English counterpart: ‘Hol mir den Schwarzplan!’ sounds much weightier and urgent than ‘Diane, could you please bring me a copy of the figure-ground diagram, please?’

Mostly used by city planners, architects and urban designers, the idea of a figure-ground diagram goes back to 18th Century Rome, when Giambattista Nolli created a detailed map of 12 copper plates using the same basic principle. White symbolises unbuilt space, such as roads, parks and squares, and black indicates built space in terms of the ground-plan of the buildings. The result is something both abstract and filled with detail, a kind of practical Yin and Yang of the city. Figure-ground diagrams help to see the ratio of built space to that of empty space, enabling city planners to envisage areas that are conducive to a good communities, have a human scale and don’t lead to a disconnectedness between buildings and the further urban fabric.

Enough of boring thery, you came here for tutorial, so let´s started. Here you can see what I´ve done in 5 minutes using my approach (tutorial below):



First you need to go to this website - and find desired place where you want to make your schwarzplan. I choose my hometown Skalica.



Then on right side choose 3rd button from bottom - Share. Here on the bottom you have option Image. Tick the option that you want to choose your own dimmensions. Now in the image appeared lighter rectangle with 4 grabable corners and darker background. You can grab corners and adjust your selection. Format set to .PDF. If you are satisfied you can easily press blue button Download. If you will recieve error, don´t worry. Just stay on that errored web-site and refresh web-site until your browser will download map.pdf. I think it is caused by overloaded servers, and that there are a lot of requests, so If you are not lucky, just try it anothertime. For example in my country, I can download map for the first time during night hours, after midnight. At the day its really difficult to download map. It also depends on the size of a map.

And also this size can have influence not only to downloading issues, but be carefull about the size for other reason. When you try to grap whole Manhattan at once you will pobably recieve only big mess of colorfull roads, with not visible buildings (in better case). In worse you cannot see building at all. So you need to play little with Scale in the sidebar. Also to work with such big files you will need a powerfull computer, if you want to work smoothly.



In Illustrator open your downloaded map.pdf. It is most likely that you will get some font error - it doesn´t matter, because we are here only for buildings. So its ok. Just press OK.



When you have you map fully loaded, and you will try to move one element on map - it will fail. Everything is connected together. So when you will select map, easily press right mouse button and choose option - Isolated selected Group. This will cause opening connected group and now you can select single elements on the map. We are here for buiding, so choose one.



Now on the main ribbon, where you have File, Edit, Opect ... go to Select > Same > Appearance. This will select all of the building on the map.


Now copy selected content - Ctrl + C , open new document - Ctrl + N. Choose desired size of paper (A4, A3 and so) and now Paste in place (Ctrl + Shift + V or in the ribbon Edit > Paste in Place) This will paste only selected elements (buildings) to the place on paper. Don´t worry that building aren´t positioned well in the paper - in the end we will fix this. And this approach (Paste in Place) is good if you want to add more elements to map, like rivers, green areas and so. If you everytime use Paste in Place, it will place elements to exact position of original downloaded map.



Now again select one building and again Select > Same > Appearance (you can group this elements together by Ctrl + G) and in the Control panel using first Color Pallet pick black color. It will colour all of the building to black 🙂 Or you can pick yellow color, its up to you. What will fit your design.



Last step is position your map to artboard and save it as PDF. This is best advantage of this solution, you have fully vector Schwarzplan of any place of the World. You can also save it as .dwg and work with it in Autocad. The possibilities are endless. You can also add green areas, rivers, footpaths, and adjust every single element. 

Below is the gallery with all steps at once. Also If you´re looking at this tutorial on mobile, and you are not able to read from images, just follow the text and download images here. Enjoy your Schwarzplan 🙂 If you have any questions, feel free to write me

With all love in the world, by Bartas