Subway architecture – world tour

Several sources have linked to a great photo compilation from design boom on avant garde subway station architecture from around the world.   The images come from:

Some of the stations are quite striking – and no, DC did not make the list.

The question it raises for me is the value in having a coherent design language for the system – providing ease of use for passengers – and sparking visual interest and making great spaces.  DC’s vaulted stations fit into its federal, monumental role quite nicely, but the uniformity of the system (despite the small differences and details) can also be monotonous and dull.

In the event that more underground Metro stations are added within the District (perhaps with the New Blue line, or other core expansions), it’s interesting to think about new station architecture that would maintain the same design principles of the current system (volume, open train rooms, common materials – concrete, brass, red tile, etc, indirect lighting) while also allowing some variability that could provide unique identification for certain stations without sacrificing design unity.

Stockholm Metro Escaltors - from flickr

Stockholm Metro Escalators - CC image from flickr

Stockholm Metro - from flickr

Stockholm Metro - CC image from flickr

Stockholm Metro - from flickr

Stockholm Metro - CC image from flickr

Stockholm Metro - from flickr

Stockholm Metro - CC image from flickr

Stockholm Metro - CC image from flickr

Stockholm Metro - CC image from flickr

Many of Stockholm’s stations, for example, use the look of exposed rock tunnels (a look considered for DC by Harry Weese, incidentally – to show the differences in construction methods for the stations drilled into the rock, versus those crafted with cut-and-cover methods), providing unity between stations while still allowing for unique designs.

Perhaps future expansions to the Metro could swing more in the direction of unique station designs and public art installations.

5 comments to Subway architecture – world tour

  • I think the Metro system design has run its course. It made sense initially (maybe) to have a single aesthetic. And Weese (one of my all time favorite Chicago architects) was very much influenced by his preservation work for Chicago and DC’s Union Stations. He wanted to continue the drama of a train travel. The excitement at arrival and departure. To play with scale and openness.

    But there are other ways to do while helping people to better navigate the system. (The similarity of the stations makes orientating yourself that much more difficult.) The NYA station that was recently built moves away from the original design in a nice way. And it would have been smarter instead of the poor man’s vaults of the green line had Metro tried something more original.

    I think it’s time that Metro experimented more with their station designs.

  • Alex Block

    Yes, I think there’s room to both experiment with more unique stations, yet still remain true to the basic principles Weese laid out for the system.

    The volume of the train rooms, for example, isn’t just creating a monumental space – it’s very practical in making the vertical circulation patterns clear to users. They can see the mezzanines and escalators, it’s really helpful in determining where you go once you get off a train.

  • The high modernism of Weese’s DC Metro stations is one of those periods that I just don’t get. It’s like I’m missing some gene, or am unable to see some crucial part of the spectrum. Where is the drama of arrival in departure when you’re just riding from one giant concrete barrel to another? It’s even more monotonous than BART.

    But then, I don’t get Mies van de Rohe either. Does this count as a disability, do you think?

  • Jarret, putting aside differences in taste, what subway systems do have that drama?

    As a preemptive strike, when I lived in Moscow, the novelty of the varied stations wore off after a while. Komsomolskaya, Mayakovskaya, and Ploschad Revolutsii were still great to go through, but the feeling of arrival was less pronounced because the cinematic sequence of spaces is less well developed, in favor of ambient ornamentation.

  • Alex Block


    It seems that the drama of arrival and departure has to do with the similarity of the stations to each other, rather than the merits of the station design in and of itself.

    For the nature of travel, I have to agree with Neil, particularly for underground systems (where the intermediate period between stations is nothing but looking out into dark tunnels). Metro’s best dramatic sequences as a rider are the portions where it provides actual visual interest – such as the Yellow line emerging from a short tunnel at King Street, and eventually emerging from the tunnel and crossing the Potomac with nice views of the Rosslyn skyline and DC’s monuments.

    I do think Metro could make the station signage on the walls a little more bold for the riders on the trains that enter each station at high speed.

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