Two anatomical patterns characterize the neocortex, and both are essential for normal cortical function. First, neocortex is divided into anatomically distinct and functionally specialized areas that form a species-specific map. Second, neocortex is composed of layers that organize cortical connectivity. Recent studies of layer and area development have used time-lapse microscopy to follow cortical cell division and migration, gene arrays to find layer- or area- specific regulatory genes, time- and region- specific manipulations of candidate genes, and optical imaging to compare area maps in wild type with genetically altered mice. New observations clarify the molecular and cellular mechanisms that generate each pattern, and stress the links between layer and area formation.