The DC Metro System for Architect Magazine


In May, I spent two days riding the Metro for Architect Magazine. I rode on trains during the early morning rush, pressed up against my fellow commuters as we collectively surrendered our personal space to the gods of convenience. Hours later, I stood completely alone on a dim, subterranean platform, watching for that pale ochre light of an oncoming train to seep into the station, signaling its impending arrival.

What I didn't truly understand about the Metro was the secret language of its design. The coffered ceilings are the system's most recognizable feature but throughout the Metro, a broad, flexible but surprisingly consistent design template exists- from the spacing of the floor tiles to the typography of the signs. All of these details are in service of the essential act of moving people quickly and efficiently (at least most of the time) from one place to another while maintaining that familiarity of space. 

As Zach Mortice writes for The American Institute of Architects:

Across 86 stations—underground, at-grade, and elevated—spread over five lines covering 106 miles, the design identity of each station shines through. If a commute begins at a ground-level suburban fringe station next to a parking lot and ends at a hub of crisscrossing train tracks deep below downtown D.C., the common design elements and shared materials make each space navigable and understandable.
It’s an intensely formalist experience as mass transit goes; colossal concrete vaults, granite, and bronze are combined in an unmistakably monumental mid-century modernist manner.

My gallery of images can be seen here.

If you have any interest in the metro, I also highly recommend this piece by Lawrence Blemiller which helped me appreciate the thinking that went into the building of the system.