Metro motifs, part 1: Underground stations
Hundreds of thousands daily pass through the hallowed halls that are our Metro. The public spaces of our city's subway platforms are unique in the world, and are associated with Washington wherever one goes.
Metro's stations are the public spaces that link the rest of the region together. Here, similarity of design means that places as far flung as Alexandria and New Carrollton are linked by common architectural elements. There are certain design motifs that weave themselves throughout the Metro system. Many of these elements repeat themselves hundreds of times over within Metro's 86 stations.
Metro is widely known for its soaring, brutalist vaults, but they aren't all the same. In fact, there are 8 main station types, although many designs vary based on location. A few stations are unique and do not fit any of the station types. The stations can be divided into two main categories: underground and at grade/elevated. Let's start with the underground stations.
Metro's architect was a Chicagoan named Harry Weese. His vision has shaped the experience of transit riders for over three decades, and will continue to do so for many more. His plans for stations mainly centered on creating an awe-inspiring space. Even though patrons may be well below the surface in many places, they will almost always find a cavernous train room. These vaulted stations echo the Great Hall of Daniel Burnham's Union Station and provide the perfect conditions for the light show that occurs with each train's arrival.
Waffle: The "Waffle" design consists of the coffered vault that Weese originally envisioned for all of Washington's subterranean stations. The surface of the vault resembles that of a waffle, hence the name. These stations were constructed using cast-in-place concrete and proved to be more expensive than other methods. For that reason, designs were later changed. Nevertheless, the Waffle architecture dominates in the downtown stations. Update by Matt: Dupont Circle was constructed using precast sections like the Arch stations. It is the only Waffle-style station to use this method.
Waffle architecture was constructed during Metro's early years. The first Waffle-style stations opened with the first segment of Metro in 1976. The final stations to include Waffle architecture were Waterfront and Navy Yard, opening in 1991. By this time, other styles were already present in the system, including Arch II at Mount Vernon Square, which had opened earlier that year.
Waffle stations can have either island platforms or side platforms. They are the only underground station type to have side platforms. Arch I, II, and III stations only have island platforms, where the platform is between two tracks.
Waffle architecture is present in 32 stations:
- 1976 - Union Station, Judiciary Square, Gallery Place*, Metro Center*, Farragut North
- 1977 - Dupont Circle, Stadium-Armory, Potomac Avenue, Eastern Market, Capitol South, Federal Center SW, L'Enfant Plaza*, Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, McPherson Square, Farragut West, Foggy Bottom, Rosslyn*, Pentagon*, Pentagon City, Crystal City
- 1979 – Court House, Clarendon, Virginia Square, Ballston
- 1980 – Benning Road, Capitol Heights
- 1983 - Archives
- 1991 – U Street, Shaw-Howard University, Waterfront, Navy Yard
The three downtown transfer stations, Metro Center, Gallery Place, and L'Enfant Plaza, all feature modified designs. They're all still waffle architecture, but they feature the distinctive cross-vault where one line passes over the other. Additionally, Rosslyn and Pentagon are modified to feature a bi-level design, with the inbound track higher than the outbound track.
Arch I: The second major design in the Metro system is Arch I. The Arch types (there are three) are all created from precast concrete sections, making construction cheaper. For this reason, WMATA chose to use them on its later phases of subway construction. Arch I architecture is characterized by a series of arches rising from the tracks to the ceiling. Crossbeams connect each arch, running parallel to the tracks. These crossbeams divide the vault into sections, which is how the Arch designs can be differentiated. Arch I vaults have three crossbeams running the length of the platform, dividing the ceiling into four parts.
Arch I stations were introduced in 1981 with the opening of the Red Line between Dupont Circle and Van Ness. The last of the Arch I stations opened with the Red Line extension to Medical Center in 1984. All of these stations are located fairly deep underground.
Arch I architecture is present at 7 stations:
- 1981 – Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, Van Ness
- 1984 -
Grosvenor, White Flint, RockvilleTenleytown, Friendship Heights, Bethesda, Medical Center
Arch II: The Arch II style became the preferred method of subway construction with later stations. These stations are very similar in design and appearance to the Arch I stations. They are also constructed using the same method--precast concrete sections. This design is defined by 5 crossbeams and 6 vault sections.
This style was introduced in 1991 with Mount Vernon Square and has been the preferred method of subway construction since. The most recent station to open with Arch II was Congress Heights in 2001.
Arch II designs are found at 6 stations:
- 1991 – Mount Vernon Square
- 1993 – Fort Totten* (lower level) – modified design
- 1998 - Glenmont
- 1999 – Columbia Heights, Georgia Avenue/Petworth
- 2001 – Congress Heights
Arch III: This design is a modified version of the Arch II design. It is found at only 2 stations, both on the Red Line, Forest Glen and Wheaton. This design was made necessary because these stations are very deep and each track is in its own single-bore tube. These vaults have 4 sections divided by 3 crossbeams.
Arch III was introduced in 1990 with Forest Glen and Wheaton. None have been constructed since. These stations are unique in the metro system because the platforms are each in their own train rooms, with a corridor connecting them with each other and the escalators/elevators to the mezzanine.
Next: Above-ground stations, including Gull-Wing I and II, Peaked Roof I and II, and more.
Note: The nomenclature (Waffle, etc.) for this post comes from Washington's page at World.NYCSubway.org.
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