This paper explores the potential of a different kind of counter-mapping. It focuses upon a critical reading of five different architectural atlases and argues that their construction and design reveals how ‘re-cartographies’ can narrate novel stories about places. The narrative power of these atlases is traced back to a focus upon relations between phenomena, and a careful consideration of how to map the mutability and dynamism of the built and natural environment. They offer new kinds of selection, classification and symbolisation; deploy hybrid forms to destabilize taken for granted binary distinctions between nature and culture; use montage and juxtaposition to reveal scalar linkages; re-imagine figure–ground relationships to reveal functional city forms and processes; and explore the potential of meta-structures in the relations between different maps in an atlas layout. Taken together, they show how the cartographic imagination can escape from standard and accepted orthodoxies. They also reveal the importance of a situated and historicized narrative approach to all mapping, and offer a kind of counter-mapping from an academic field, which might allow more creative professional engagement with the making of places.