Recreating Loren Madsen’s “6,000,000,000 Monkeys” with Mapbox and turf.js

One of my favourite bookmarks is the List of Physical Visualizations and Related Artefacts. It contains some great historical and modern examples of data visualizations brought into the physical world. One of my favourites is All The Submarines of the United States of America (1987), which is a sort of children’s mobile, that represents the “625 submarines of the US fleet from the late 1890s to the late 1980s. The cardboard models have been suspended at different heights to look like a school of fish.”


Another series that really caught my interest is Loren Madsen’s early data sculptures. A combination of wood and metallic sculptures represent different socio-economic and socio-demographic data that harness 3-D space to communicate trends.

How cool are these?


Without having the carpentry skills (and time/dedication) that Madsen has, I wanted to try and generate one of his sculptures in the digital space.

I used data from Wikipedia’s World Population Estimates to recreate Madsen’s 6,000,000,000 Monkeys (1999). I combined three sources of population estimates to capture years between 10,000 BCE to 2100:
• McEvedy & Jones (10,000 BCE - 1925)
• U.S. Census Bureau (1950 - 2050)
• United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2055 - 2100)

I used turf.js and Mapbox GL JS to then calculate and visualize stacked circles representing each of the estimated or projected populations. Circle heights represent the time span between each of the population estimates and the area of each circle represents the population.


Full code is on Github