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Mosaics could make navigating Metro easier

The Metro can be disorienting for a newcomer. For a long time after I moved here, I got turned around every time I changed trains at L'Enfant Plaza, and always ended up having to go back and read the signs. Could mosaics of the world above make it easier to navigate?

Mockup of a mosaic depicting the convention center at the Mount Vernon Square Metro station. All images by the author.

Metro's uniformity makes it difficult to navigate. I was describing this for a friend who grew up here, and he knew what I meant. My mother doesn't take the metro at all, he told me, because she can't read. The signs aren't any help to her, so she has to stick with the bus where she can see landmarks through the windows and not miss her stop.

Here I was griping because I had to read the signs to navigate the metro, while my friend's mother, like millions of other American adults, isn't able to use the metro system at all because she can't read the signs. I am a mosaicist, which means I make mosaics. When my friend told me about his mother's situation, it gave me an idea: why not put mosaics in the metro depicting the view on the street above?

Mosaic of my dog, Buddy.

Here is a picture of a 4'x4' mosaic I made of my dog, Buddy. Notice how the background in the mosaic meshes with the fence behind it. Imagine mosaics similarly made mounted inside the coffers (those pockets you see on the sides and ceilings of the underground Metro stations) depicting the street view overhead. As a train pulled into a station, you could "look out the window" to see where you were.

The mosaics, especially if illuminated, would help dispel the Metro's gloominess by adding color and "sunlight" to the platforms. At the same time, because they would sit inside the coffers, they wouldn't interfere with the grand vistas of architect Harry Weese, who designed the stations.

This project could engage the community, bringing in neighbors of each Metro station to select the subject matter for their station's mosaics. WMATA could set up a website where residents could offer suggestions for neighborhood landmarks or vote on others' submissions. WMATA could even advertise the submission process as a way to give every DC area resident a stake in "our Metro."

Mockup of a mosaic for the Gallery Place Metro station.

Mosaics could be of recognizable landmarks specific to the area around each station, like the Friendship Arch at the Gallery Place-Chinatown station or the Capitol dome at Capitol South. Or they could be of an interesting view, like the tops of rowhouses, or the entrance of the Thurgood Marshall Academy for the Anacostia station.

Each mosaic would have to satisfy artistic and technical conditions. For example, a mosaic of the skyline wouldn't work because the subject matter is too big to be rendered mosaically with sufficient detail. After passing WMATA review, the local ANC could select a final design from a list of top vote-getters.

The cost could be very reasonable. Each metro coffer is 100 inches wide. If the mosaicist used standard 5/8" x 5/8" ceramic tiles, the rendered mosaic would look very much like the mock-ups depicted here. The cost to complete a station would be less than the $250,000 per station WMATA already has budgeted for public art along the new Silver Line.

Detail of a potential mosaic.

Mosaics would be resistant to vandalism, easy to maintain, and easier to clean than the concrete they would cover. They could be made in sections, then installed all at once overnight with no disruption to service. They would also be durable. In my view, one of the primary benefits of installing mosaics in the Metro is that they could be historical windows into our time for future generations of riders.

Visual cues in the Metro system could add interest to every rider's experience. They're especially helpful for visitors and newcomers as well. But for those who struggle with illiteracy or a learning disability, mosaics below ground depicting the street scene above ground could provide life-changing benefits.

Craig Nelsen studied Western Philosophy at St. John's College in Santa Fe, NM, from where, via China, New York and Omaha, he moved to Washington in 2003. He is starting a non-profit called Buddy's Club for those in distress due to loneliness, and he thinks factory farming is an abomination. 


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Far and away the biggest benefit of this would be to dispel some of the gloomy vacuum of most stations.

by Dave Murphy on Oct 24, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

My guess would be that after a couple of years of brake dust, water seepage, and overall standard Metro neglect, those lovely mosaics will be worse than useless.

Basically, something like this, only worse because it is happening to an intricate design, rather than a monotone background.

by Dizzy on Oct 24, 2013 12:49 pm • linkreport

I've always thought metro could do something similar with LEDs, or LCD's. Place an LCD tv in each "vault". Acting together it would be something akin to the Vegas Street experience in Vegas, one large screen the size of a metro tunnel ceiling.

I would imagine metro could sell significant advertising, scroll Metro System updates, weather etc and it would certainly brighten the stations

by Metro on Oct 24, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

At the same time, because they would sit inside the coffers, they wouldn't interfere with the grand vistas of architect Harry Weese, who designed the stations.

Given that Weese originally wanted no artwork in the stations at all, I don't think Weese would agree!

Metro's uniformity makes it difficult to navigate. I was describing this for a friend who grew up here, and he knew what I meant. My mother doesn't take the metro at all, he told me, because she can't read. The signs aren't any help to her, so she has to stick with the bus where she can see landmarks through the windows and not miss her stop.

I can see the case for public art, but I'm having a much harder time seeing this as a viable wayfinding method.

by Alex B. on Oct 24, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

Oh, and I had to smile at the assertion it would cost only ~250K per station.

This is the same metro that spent 400K dollars in inspection on a million dollar bus stop

by Metro on Oct 24, 2013 1:00 pm • linkreport

"My guess would be that after a couple of years of brake dust, water seepage, and overall standard Metro neglect, those lovely mosaics will be worse than useless. "

Cause brake dust and water seepage and neglect are worse on metro than on the NYC subways in their worst years? (yes, they decayed, but it took decades.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 24, 2013 1:02 pm • linkreport

"Given that Weese originally wanted no artwork in the stations at all, I don't think Weese would agree!"

Its not "art" its wayfinding. Just uses an image.

"I can see the case for public art, but I'm having a much harder time seeing this as a viable wayfinding method."

I like the mosaic idea, but I would make it simpler/more stylized.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 24, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport

I agree that something is needed, and the mosaics seem like a good idea. $250k a station, though, seems steep.

Maybe just do the more popular stations with mosaics, and for the rest, there should be a continuous strip of sign that can be seen from a seated and standing position (unlike now). This sign should have backlit letters with the name of the station. This is especially important in stations with a center platform, as the moving train creates a shadow on the station name sign. It's hard enough to read the signs in the dark as they go whizzing by your window, way above your head. Simply lighting them would go a long way.

Also, who thought it was a good idea to put a wall up at Smithsonian and not write the station name on the wall?

/end rant

by jyindc on Oct 24, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport

Interesting idea. I wouldnt see it at every station but it could be a cool idea and some. The maintenance might be a pain if its along the platforms since they are in operation ~21 hours a day all year round.

by BTA on Oct 24, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

I'm with Dizzy. They'd be ruined in no time.

by Adam L on Oct 24, 2013 1:11 pm • linkreport

I like the concept, as it's similar to LA's themed stations, but agree with some of the above comments that creative art as opposed to photography should be used as the mosaics.

Also agree that if this were to move forward, WMATA should wisely pick durable materials that can weather the soot, dust and water damage that will inevitably cover these mosaics.

At this point, anything is better than the 70's style, bland concrete walls that characterize the system.

by Burd on Oct 24, 2013 1:11 pm • linkreport

Also generally speaking the main wayfinding should be separate from art. They seek to acheive different ends and we don't need to shortchange either of them.

by BTA on Oct 24, 2013 1:12 pm • linkreport

Can't say I'm a fan of messing with Metro's monumental architectural style.

by Chester B. on Oct 24, 2013 1:13 pm • linkreport


Cause brake dust and water seepage and neglect are worse on metro than on the NYC subways in their worst years? (yes, they decayed, but it took decades.

1. IIRC most NYC subway stations are much shallower, above the water table, than the average Metro station.

2. MTA has a regularly scheduled process for cleaning the walls, which are readily accessible. Metro walls are recessed behind parapets and AFAIK are left untouched for years on end.

by Dizzy on Oct 24, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

I love public art and always want to see more of it. For wayfinding, it would seem a simple icon for each station would be simpler for those unable to read or read English. Like a logo for each station. The icon could be on the maps as well as on signs inside and outside the station. The mosaics could have the icon included in the image.

by Tina on Oct 24, 2013 1:18 pm • linkreport

Plus, Buddy is super cute and I feel less lonely just looking at his picture.

by Tina on Oct 24, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

Another terrible idea. People who can't navigate the metro won't be helped by these images. How in the world would that work? How is an abstract image of "something" more clear than a huge sign that says "DUPONT CIRCLE"?

Plus they'd get dirty in 5 days.

Plus they'd cost money I'd rather use to fix escalators.

by Matt on Oct 24, 2013 1:20 pm • linkreport

I agree that something ought to be done to brighten up the metro caverns, but this looks a little cheap. Like a pickelated photo blown up, it dosen't have the artistry of the NYC mosaics, although that's probably a matter of taste. Plus, I don't think an image of some buildings overhead will do much towards orienting one to the right direction to move. Again, the lighting and signage could be improved. I quite liked the Seattle image on the Notes from Seattle post a couple of days ago, but with some lighting in the slats.

by Thayer-D on Oct 24, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

Its not "art" its wayfinding. Just uses an image.

I disagree. If it's wayfinding, then build a consistent, graphic wayfinding system.

by Alex B. on Oct 24, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

not to send mean but if people just read the signs and study the system before just tryna to jump into a system they never used(do a few dry runs like ppl do when they change jobs and wanna gage the traffic)and for the ppl that cant READ use that money and invest in reading programs or something

by Jay on the 3rd Floor on Oct 24, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

For wayfinding, it would seem a simple icon for each station would be simpler for those unable to read or read English.

Mexico City uses such a system - each station has an associated pictogram:

Metro did indeed consider it as well, but eventually moved in a different direction:

The key to making this work would be very clear and distinct icons, not art that looks good in a station.

by Alex B. on Oct 24, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport

To the author:

This is a great idea and I'm sure it can be implemented in an affordable fashion in spite of Metro (instead of painting them, the mosaics could be printed offsite and adhered for example).

Anyways, this is innovative and I would ignore the naysayers. Finding your way in Metro stations is a real problem that needs a solution. I love the proposal.


by Luis on Oct 24, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport

I would really like some form of differentiation.

The way that I would do it that would hope to preserve the Brutalist blandness would be to paint each station in a slightly different color. The red tiles could also be different colors.

I do really like mosaics, but it would kind of defeat the original intent(which I am happy to do, but other are not)
Secondly it is sad that CUA Brooklyn is above ground, some neo Byzantine mosaics would really look awesome in the metro

by Richard on Oct 24, 2013 1:56 pm • linkreport

Im fine with a simple icon - whatever works and is attractive.

I just wouldnt get hung up with Weese not liking public art - because the definition of "art" is so arbitrary (the questioning of the boundaries of "art" was already well under way when Metro was first built, and has certainly not stopped since).

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 24, 2013 1:56 pm • linkreport

It seems like some tiles in some station would eventually fall even if they were well maintained. How would we prevent injury from overhead falling tiles?

There would also need to be very reliable testing and inspection of the mosaics to make sure they were constructed and maintained properly. I could see a lazy/incompetent contractor cutting corners on the adhesive or whatever is used to affix the tiles to the ceiling.

by Falls Church on Oct 24, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

Sounds like a terrible idea to me, but if you were going to do it, why not start with some projectors and see if people respond to it? If it got a really good response, then go for it with the mosaics. If it didn't make much difference, or only served to confuse, then forget it.

by renegade09 on Oct 24, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

As an art project I think its cool,

As a way to improve way finding I am less convinced.

by Drumz on Oct 24, 2013 2:34 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church
The tiles are very very small, so unless a whole panel came off, it would not be a serious injury concern.

As mentioned, the National Shrine has their entire ceiling covered in mosaic tiles, in some rather hard to service areas. I doubt they are too concerned about a tile or two falling and hurting people.

by Richard on Oct 24, 2013 2:37 pm • linkreport

While I agree that public art would be nice, illiteracy is not a good reason to change metro stations. I'd rather have the money be spend on getting illiterate people reading lessons.

by Jasper on Oct 24, 2013 2:39 pm • linkreport

I like the Metro stations, especially downtown. They are dignified, and recall the classical architecture of the Federal Core. They do indeed tell you where you are - you are in Washington, DC and no further wayfaring is needed. And I agree with the architect, Harry Weese, that no advertising should be allowed in the stations. Turning infrastructure into billboards trivializes the importance of the public realm in our lives. I know they need the cash, but it just seems a shame.

Art, on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of the public realm, and if pieces like this could be presented occasionally as Art - as opposed to decoration or (unneeded) 'wayfaring' - that would be good.

by Ron Eichner on Oct 24, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

"I like the Metro stations, especially downtown. They are dignified, and recall the classical architecture of the Federal Core. They do indeed tell you where you are - you are in Washington, DC and no further wayfaring is needed."

I will skip my view of the aesthetic qualities of the neoclassical buildings in the federal core, and even the question of whether knowing what city you are in is sufficient "wayfinding".

But if what the style tells you is that you are in Washington DC, can we do something else for Pentagon, Pentagon City, Crystal City, Rosslyn, etc - IOW all the stations in Virginia?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 24, 2013 2:58 pm • linkreport

How is there no discussion of one at Dunn Loring?

@Alex B.: Seattle has pictograms for the light rail stations. I wouldn't be surprised if we read an article on that here soon.

by Gray on Oct 24, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

I like outdoor stations. They aren't dungeons. They can stay the way they are.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 24, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

Maybe they could be done on concrete supports or entrance corridors and the like where that makes more sense. I could see this making a lot of sense though I see it more as art/branding. It could help people orient themselves as I often experience a bit of confusion when I get on/off at a station I don't habitually use (say less than once a week). They could be somewhat abstract that way (World Flags at the Dupont station, Animals at Woodley Park, various universities at associated stops, Navy Yard baseball?).

by BTA on Oct 24, 2013 3:13 pm • linkreport

"They do indeed tell you where you are - you are in Washington, DC and no further wayfaring is needed."

I fear that if someone is in doubt as to which city they're in, we're not looking at a wayfinding problem.

Murals, large scale images, and textures are a common component in wayfinding systems for hospitals, parking garages, corporate campuses, and other large facilities where one space blends into the next.

Here's one example from Sussman Prejza.

by David R. on Oct 24, 2013 3:14 pm • linkreport

Buddy is a very handsome boy. I concur with Tina - his photo brightened my day.

by Lucre on Oct 24, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport

I really like the stations the way they are. I think the design gives the system a crucial monumental feeling, and the overall aesthetic really is a fantastic fusion of the classical architecture typical of the federal core crossed with the hulking modernist buildings we see at outlying subterranean stations like Bethesda, Stadium-Armory, and Crystal City; all done up in an industrial context. My concern is that adding art to the vaults themselves would come off as tacky.

I'm all for adding art within stations - for instance, I love the dog in a spacesuit at L'Enfant over the old DOT exit, the mural on the U Street mezzanine, and (if they ever get their act together) Penguin Rush Hour at Silver Spring. I just don't understand why anyone would want to mess up those amazing vaults.

by Peter K on Oct 24, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport

Murals or not, the hub stations desperately need something to improve internal navigation. Even as a daily rider, I still get badly turned around at Metro, Gallery, L'Enfant, etc. if I'm going somewhere I don't usually travel. This can be done without tinkering with the concrete mausoleum look so many seem to adore. A simple thing like painting the entire sides of a stairwell and the front face of the stairs red immediately conveys "THIS WAY TO THE RED LINE". Additionally, the fact that every line is represented by a circle is asinine. If say, Green were a green square, Blue a blue triangle, etc. this would really help internal navigation as well as increasing accessiblity.

I do really like the local area street maps posted in most stations--there should be a lot more of them to quickly figure out where the best exit to use is.

by Peter H on Oct 24, 2013 3:42 pm • linkreport

This is a great idea and I am surprised at the negative reaction it is getting here. Sure, it may not meet everyone's needs but it is trying to offer something genuinely new---a view to the surface below ground.

As such, it might transcend a simple wayfinding system of symbols/etc---as it replicates the actual physical world. I agree that this might be worth trying with projections/posters first, but BRAVO on an inspired idea!

by xmal on Oct 24, 2013 3:49 pm • linkreport

I just don't understand why anyone would want to mess up those amazing vaults.

Because when the train is crowded, platform is crowded, the announcer unintelligible and you aren't stopped exactly in front of the sign on the subway wall facing the platform it is very difficult to know at what station you have just arrived.

I have this problem all the time (when i ride the train).

by Tina on Oct 24, 2013 3:51 pm • linkreport

A lot of the problems with wayfinding could be solved by having displays inside the trains.

DCMetro is one of the only systems I know that doesnt display the next station name on some sort of display. In Seoul and Tokyo they not only show the station's name but a map of the station with it's layout, exits and attractions. In Tokyo it even shows you on what car you are on, so you will know exactly where on the platform you will be getting off at.

And it's offered in 4 languages....

by Richard on Oct 24, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

NEVER. Why? 1) Cost 2) Preservationists 3) too dark anyway

by Matthew S on Oct 24, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

"Metro's uniformity makes it difficult to navigate."

What uniformity most of the stations look different. The only thing that is the same is the arch in some and nothing else; the mezzanines are all in different spots along with the escalators and elevator placement I find it very difficult to see how it is hard to navigate.

No stations that are back to back look the same.

by kk on Oct 24, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

Something - ANYthing - to make navigating the system better.

The card system is daunting to most infrequent users and transferring can be confusing, especially if you have to make a quick call because the trains are on the platform. It would be easier to say - get on the train on the side with the astronaut art.

by Capt. Hilts on Oct 24, 2013 4:22 pm • linkreport

"For a long time after I moved here, I got turned around every time I changed trains"

I wouldn't advise you to use NYC's subway system

by King Terrapin on Oct 24, 2013 4:31 pm • linkreport

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned London's Victoria Line station motifs.

by Richie on Oct 24, 2013 4:35 pm • linkreport

New York's system might be more complicated than ours, but it is FAR better marked.

by Capt. Hilts on Oct 24, 2013 4:40 pm • linkreport

Stop trying to change our Metro and be proud of our Metro. It was designed when Brutalism was all the rage. That's ok. Somehow 3/4 or a million people use it effectively with no problems every day.

Let's maintain what we have and build new lines rather than trying spend a bunch of money on a bunch of touchy-feely pictures and chrome decor.

by Cavan on Oct 24, 2013 4:52 pm • linkreport

Most people walk around and are not hit by cars. People walk on streets that do not have the aesthetics we associated with walkability.

If we can make it easier to navigate metro, at a reasonable cost, we should (I mean most people dont get lost on poorly signed bike routes either). If we can make it more attractive, so its more attractive (and yes I KNOW thats subjective) to ride, and gains mode share we should.

Of course that shouldn't be done at the expense of basic maintenance. But if we are going to spend billions on new lines (are we?), we should leverage what we have.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 24, 2013 4:57 pm • linkreport

Wait, Cavan, was your post meant to mock NIMBYISM?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 24, 2013 4:58 pm • linkreport

I'm all for making Metro a much brighter experience. Its original design is okay, but it's a bit drab for today's over-stimulated society. Also, anything has to be better than what currently happens to me during rush hour when I'm in my post-work 'zombie zone' and only half paying attention. I'm standing on a packed train, we arrive at a station. I bend down a bit to TRY to see the station name as it flies by in the darkness. The onboard display states ">>>" The train stops. I can't hear (understand) the train announcement and the onboard display only states that it's "RED" when the doors open. We're parked in between pylons/signs. Is it my stop? Apparently knowing which side the doors open is paramount to knowing where you are. It's been one of my pet peeves since those displays appeared. And yes, I know those onboard displays don't often work half the time.

by Bob Smith on Oct 24, 2013 6:00 pm • linkreport

1. It's important to consider this broad issue in a structured fashion. e.g.,

2. The mosaics shown in the mockups don't really contribute much to wayfinding, irrespective of the other issues people raised, but they are interesting as public art.

Unfortunately, the Weese design is intended to be internally referent and to not include art that isn't architectural sculpture.

3. Richie's point about the Victoria Line motifs-mosaics illustrate unique design specific to a station and are interesting, but don't assist in wayfinding. I think the idea is great though as an illustration of the ideas I was trying to express in my piece on this topic, about how to link a station to its neighborhood context, and anchor the public realm of both the neighborhood and the transit system.

4. I am a bit nonplussed though about the direction stuff. Maybe there needs to be more signage. But how hard is it really to be sure that you go in the right direction?

I do recall, I think here, an entry suggesting that on the surface in sidewalks that directional indicators (compass points) be added to assist people in going the right way.

But that wouldn't work on the subway platforms, as they'd mostly be obscured by people standing.

I have written but don't seem to have many good photos of some stylized maps that some transit agencies put in their stations, like in Montreal.

Here's one though:

Maybe along those lines, along with the exit information more building landmarks could be included in signage listings, to help people orient themselves?

by Richard Layman on Oct 24, 2013 6:05 pm • linkreport

I understand the interest in making the station interiors more identifiable, but mosaics or artwork has problems. Are the mosaics/artwork to run the length of the 600' long platform? Once the Mosaic or artwork is in place, does it stay that way for decades until a new wayfinding fad comes along?

To assist those who can't read at all or the Latin alphabet is totally unfamiliar, there is an argument to be made for adding icons to each station name & sign. An icon for the Pentagon stop is easy. Defining different icons for the other 97 stations (by 2018 or so) that are useful would be a challenge. And honestly, I can see politics entering into the icon design selection.

In roughly 6 years, over 1/2 of the cars in the system will be Series 7000 units, which will have improved internal displays to help keep track of where you are and the upcoming stations. That will help with wayfinding.

by AlanF on Oct 24, 2013 6:20 pm • linkreport

@AlanF - I'm assuming that's if Metro doesn't couple them behind the old cars, rendering the new technology useless. Still, that's still a low number in order to readily help people navigate metro. Maybe you're just never supposed to leave the system.

by Bob Smith on Oct 24, 2013 6:43 pm • linkreport

My biggest issue with this is that with few exceptions, there is little to no guarantee that the surrounding streetscape will remain the same at any given station, rendering the mosaics a useless reminder of what was.

by Craig on Oct 24, 2013 8:57 pm • linkreport

This is a total waste of money we need for other things. Metro has a great resigning program underway already and if they ever combine it with new lighting in their caves we will have a path forward.

by AndrewJ on Oct 25, 2013 7:54 am • linkreport

What is the target audience?
Illiterate natives? Illiterate immigrants?
Or non native tourists?

by scratchy on Oct 25, 2013 8:54 am • linkreport

How about the train conductor just loudly says "THIS IS [STATION NAME]" everytime the train pulls into the station. I've been riding the same metro route for 2 years now and I can "feel it in my bones" when I'm at the right station...which is what I have to do, because unless my seat is positioned just right to read one of the few signs, odds are the PA doesn't tell me where we are.

by Hadur on Oct 25, 2013 10:05 am • linkreport

Weese's original design was to connect the metropolitan area with similarly designed stations. Unfortunately, this method misses the mark in giving distinction to each station and its location. I think the idea of icons for each station would improve recognition of location and add distinction; these could be baked enamel plates set in the side wall coffers, rather than ceramic tiles. Re wayfinding,I've had a hard time understanding why the LED read-outs in the cars do not state the station stop, next station, time, etc. similar to New York's new cars; this would greatly assist passengers, especially those who have hearing disabilities; can't the Transit Authority program these signs to state more than the lines' color?

by BK on Oct 25, 2013 10:18 am • linkreport

@cavan-...3/4 million use it with no problems every day.

Unless you're connected by hive brain to the 3/4's million, there's no way you can make this statement with accuracy.

I use the system regularly but not w/o difficulty identifying my stop. Several commuters here have the same experience, in addition to identifying correct train platforms when entering & transferring. Its a problem identified by many people who use the system regularly.

by Tina on Oct 25, 2013 10:23 am • linkreport

Can we just have art instead of tricks?

(The mosaic in the last photo, honestly, almost made me nauseous. Weird little pattern.)

I love it when the illuminated advertising signs are previewing an exhibition at the Smithsonian or Phillips.

There is enough room in the Metro stations for rotating sculpture displays.

Can we ask the defense contractors, for instance, who love putting up ad signs showing their missiles to instead put up some visual arts.

It seems as if there are many, many options for being creative here.

I would challenge Metro to take just ONE station and use it as a experimentation and test lab for art.

by kob on Oct 25, 2013 10:40 am • linkreport

For wayfinding, I would much rather have the train announcements be replaced with pre-recorded set speeches, like the ones used on the Tube in London. At Westminster on the Jubilee Line, you hear, "This is Westminster. Change here for the District and Circle Lines. Alight here for Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. This train terminates at Stratford." Copying that to Metro (and putting it in American English), the basic announcement formula would be as follows:

[Station ID and Line] + [Transfer Line(s)] + [Exit for Locations] + [Train ID and Terminus].

"This is Federal Triangle on the Orange and Blue Lines. Exit here for the Smithsonian Museums and the Ronald Reagan Building. This is an Orange Line train to Vienna."

"This is Union Station on the Red Line. Exit here for Union Station shops and all Amtrak, MARC, and VRE trains. This is a Red Line train to Glenmont."

"This is Gallery Place-Chinatown on the Yellow and Green Lines. Change here for the Red Line. Exit here for the Verizon Center, Chinatown, and the National Portrait Gallery. This is a Yellow Line train to Huntington."

All pre-recorded, all actually audible and intelligible.

by SG on Oct 25, 2013 10:59 am • linkreport

+ 1 to BK - the original design of Metro stations might have been with uniformity in mind, but for the people that use the system every day (commuters and tourists), it's not always helpful.

The idea of differentiating stations with public art can have a huge impact on navigability; as many people have noted, the fact that the stations all look alike and have poor signage and crappy PA announcements makes it annoying for regular users, and downright confusing for newcomers on a packed train.

When I lived on the NQR in New York, I really appreciated that some of the stations were easily marked - 5th Ave./59th Street had penguin mosaics (because of the Central Park Zoo). 49th Street was just red (no idea why). 28th or 23rd street had little hats (because...of the garmet district?) I don't think there was a grand plan, just that when some stations were built or renovated, they threw in a bit extra to make them unique. Most of the decorated stations adhered to the generally bland (and decrepit) white tile with dark accents decor, but the visual accents helped tired commuters remember where they are. Surely there is a way to use visual cues to differentiate the stations for all of us (the sleepy commuters, but also new, illiterate, non-English-speaking, or hard of hearing passengers) figure out where we are.

by Abby on Oct 25, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

Less artistic, but I would like tiles in the floor with arrows and information at transfer stations. Red tile arrows with an E or W for the Red Line, Yellow & Green mixed arrows plus Orange, Blue & White arrows and a picture & name of the next station(s) in the floors of major transfer stations.

by Alan Drake on Oct 25, 2013 12:33 pm • linkreport

A rather un-necessary idea, esp. for the more generic stops. A more significant issue is which exit to use and the new signs don't always include that.

by Rich on Oct 25, 2013 12:40 pm • linkreport

What a beautiful but at the same time sensible idea! I hope someone makes this a reality. Then people won't always be griping about the Metro system.

by Debbie on Oct 25, 2013 12:43 pm • linkreport

Craig, I agree with you about getting turn around at a station. An odd element of way-finding that I find useful at the L'Enfant metro is the flashing green/yellow sign at the end of the station platform for the green and yellow trains. I know what side of the station I'm suppose to be on when I see that that sign, even when a train is not coming.

However, when I go to the lower level platform to catch the orange/blue line trains. I get turned around. If construction is taking place I just remember what side of the platform the construction is taking place, especially if it's on the side I am heading. Unfortuantely, a construction site nor a flashing sign described above is aesthetically pleasing. The mosiac you describe would be helpful. I can visualize the mosaic adding to a stations identity, but would Metro would maintain just like they do the lights, escalators, elevators...the list goes on. By the way it makes too much sense to implement.

by dcdotcom on Oct 25, 2013 2:11 pm • linkreport

The architecture of the Metro stations is fine, and a "wayfinding/art" proposal like this would dramatically alter the character of the stations. Maintenance costs would also go way up. Let's maintain what we have. I personally don't think the subway stations need "kitschy" unique designs to aid in wayfinding. Not many subway systems use that strategy, with the notable exception of Boston's T. But the images on the T station walls don't really help in my opinion. The names of stations are the most important wayfinding device.

by John P on Oct 25, 2013 2:52 pm • linkreport

what difference would this make, even if it's possible, considering the deep burial of most underground stations? Most office buildings all look the same - cubes with varying degrees of glass and concrete.

by ks on Oct 25, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

I ride the Metro every day and have been doing so for years. Each and every ride carries the stress of possibly missing my stop. If I miss seeing the sign from inside a car (because it's hard to see through the windows or people are standing in the way), and especially if the announcement is wah-wah-wah, I don't know where I am. It's also difficult to know which direction to take in some of the stations. I worked at near L'Enfant Plaza, and for the first six months I would head for the picture of the astronaut when I went home, except that there are two, nearly identical, pictures of astronauts in that station. Something needs to be done. I don't know how tourists and visitors manage the system at all.

by Andy on Oct 26, 2013 12:50 am • linkreport

Cool. a lot of subways in other cities have mosaics on their walls, so there would be familiarity there, and yet it'd be unique to DC.

by asffa on Oct 28, 2013 5:50 pm • linkreport

Would love mosaics. Don't like the picture idea-especially in places like the convention center, which is pretty boring-looking. All around in DC we have boring architecture, so something more artsy is probably better.

by George on Oct 29, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

I love the idea.

by Shelley on Oct 30, 2013 9:26 am • linkreport

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