Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Art of Subways

~ For most commuters, subways are often a ‘necessary evil’ that simply help them get from one part of a city to another in (hopefully) the safest, quickest and most comfortable way possible. Generally, people don’t travel around the world just to see subway stations, but some subway systems are well worth the visit.

As someone who rarely uses public transport at home, I was more than happy to re-acquaint myself with that means of travel as I explored London, New York City, and Athens in 2008. Of the three cities mentioned, I personally found London’s subway system (the ‘underground’) to be the least interesting visually. It began operating in 1863, and as the first underground transport system in the world, its designers and architects didn’t waste time or money trying to turn it into a work of art.

Thanks to the 2004 Olympic Games, Athens has a stunning new subway. While the underground component is not particularly extensive, it is clean and efficient. It also incorporates many fascinating archaeological discoveries unearthed during the construction of the network that are worth seeking out and examining closely in their own right.

The first underground line in New York’s subway system opened in October 1904. While many of the old lines and stations are showing signs of wear and tear, the inclusion of works of art or station designs that were aesthetically pleasing to commuters, was part of the brief city engineers and architects had to take into consideration when planning the subway.

Many stations are decorated with intricate ceramic tile work, some of it dating back to 1904 when the subway first opened for business. The "Arts for Transit" program oversees art in the subway system. Permanent installations, such as sculpture, mosaics, and murals; photographs displayed in lightboxes, and musicians performing in stations encourage people to use mass transit. Some of the art is by internationally-known artists such as Elizabeth Murray's Blooming, [see image] displayed at Lexington Avenue/59th Street station.
[Source: Wikipedia…]

The New York subway system was a revelation as I constantly discovered massive murals, quirky sculptures, colourful mosaics and many other types of art scattered through the subterranean depths beneath that great metropolis.

Which brings me to the Design Boom website.

They have posted a feature on some of the world’s most visually stunning subways systems and their stations, and it is well worth taking a look at. Of course, most of the stations illustrated in the article are far newer than either the New York City or London subway systems. Never the less, all are a feast for the eye and would surely make even the most jaded and jet-lagged traveller, reach for their cameras to capture the underground wonders they are passing through.

Artwork: Blooming, Elizabeth Murray (1996).
Photo by: Wayne Whitehorne

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