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Lights brighten mezzanine at Judiciary Sq

On November 24, Metro announced that they were testing new lighting at Judiciary Square's F Street Entrance.

Detail of new mezzanine lights.

These new lights brighten the mezzanine, which is particularly dim. If the lights are successful, Metro will likely expand the format to other stations.

Metro's original designer, Harry Weese, indended for the Brutalist vaults to remain blank, lit entirely by indirect lighting. However, over the years, Metro has added accoutrement to the vaults, from station signs to security cameras. In most stations, supplemental lighting was added in mezzanines, which tend to be in perpetual shadow.

Old lighting at Fourth Street Mezzanine

New lighting at the F Street Mezzanine

The new test lighting strikes a medium between the extremes. It adds lots of light to the mezzanines, while still providing light to the vault. At the same time, the fixtures' design limits the encroachment of the light supports on the vault.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 


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I'll have to check them out.

The hanging lights seem OK, as the supports are minimal and the light is still mostly indirect, hitting the roof first. The ones bolted on directly to the vaults (closer to the escalators) don't look so good in the pictures, however.

I'd also be curious to see Metro experiment with different 'temperature' lighting. Those photos make it seem really cold and harsh, especially in contrast to the warmer, softer indirect lighting for the bulk of the train room.

by Alex B. on Nov 27, 2009 1:22 pm • linkreport

Alex B.

Considering these photos haven't been calibrated, I think its impossible to judge what the color temperature is like. However people rarely look up, so I think what the lights look like is a small point, especially when considering it brightens the station up.

by Joshua Davis on Nov 27, 2009 1:49 pm • linkreport

Well yes, that's why I put the caveat that I have to see things for myself. But knowing what the existing lighting is like and comparing that to the contrast shown in the images, I think it's a solid guess.

Another case study is the lighting beneath the mezzanine at Foggy Bottom, where they replaced all the fixtures with some colder, blue-ish lighting (I think they're LEDs) that's much brighter than what was there before. They've also got a very cold light:

by Alex B. on Nov 27, 2009 1:58 pm • linkreport

I'd like to see the walls and ceilings whitewashed.
If whitened, advertisements could be projected onto them.
Do people prefer the platforms on the edges or the island style of station?

by shy on Nov 27, 2009 3:09 pm • linkreport

I think the perpetual shadow is annoying and I'm very much for more lighting. My main station is Court House where I'm forced to stand at the end near the stairs so I can get some reading light.

by eriks on Nov 27, 2009 3:15 pm • linkreport

Oh thank god.

They are a little too strong right in the center. Metro doesn't need to be lit like an office; it's okay to have some drama. Similarly, their straight shape contrasts with the curves of the mezzanine in an inelegant way. Keep trying Metro, but don't screw up the metro like they ruined the Subway in the 60s.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 27, 2009 3:46 pm • linkreport

whitewashing stations is a bad idea. Metro painted a bunch of stations a while back, and they look crappy. Stations invariably get dirty, thanks to brake dust and other stuff in the system (these are underground tunnels, after all) and the stations that were painted look much worse when dirty than the raw concrete ones.

I grew up in the Midwest, where it was common knowledge that you shouldn't buy an all-white or an all-black car, because they'll both look like crap with the snow, dirt, and road salt that accumulates during the winter. Same principle applies here - the look of raw concrete still look good even if it's dirty. Not so with paint.

Besides, with the undulations of Metro's coffered arches, I don't think you'd have much luck projecting advertisements.

by Alex B. on Nov 27, 2009 3:58 pm • linkreport

Brighter is good, but I dont like the way they were installed, I think theyre too close to the vault.

by J on Nov 27, 2009 5:46 pm • linkreport

I know I'm in the minority, but I always liked the subdued indirect lighting in the stations. To me it is more calming. I also prefer the less harsh lighting of the older gen railcars.

by spookiness on Nov 27, 2009 6:10 pm • linkreport

I was there today. I liked the change. The overhead wires were a bit distracting though. :)

/Extract tongue from cheek.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 27, 2009 11:18 pm • linkreport

I also favor the unpainted vaults. Metro's stations are a striking example of Brutalism.

And "Brutalism" comes from the French, beton brut, or raw concrete. Paint is the antithesis to Brutalism.

Of course, we shouldn't hang on to tradition just because it's tradition, but in this case, let's keep the paint in the cans.

by Matt Johnson on Nov 28, 2009 11:03 am • linkreport

I think indirect light is the way to go, but this is a bit uneven. You can hide a doozy of an indirect lighting system in top of the sign poles that nobody is exposed directly to without a ladder.

by Squalish on Nov 28, 2009 12:18 pm • linkreport

Oh, I really hope they get lots of negative feedback on this. I quite like the dimness of the Metro.

by MB on Nov 28, 2009 4:55 pm • linkreport

Good points, Matt. Painting the vaults is both impractical and antithetical to the design philosophy of the system. It would be one thing if painting them made things better, but I sure don't think so.

by Alex B. on Nov 28, 2009 5:42 pm • linkreport

Fixtures also need to be cleaned periodically in order to function properly and efficiently. I hope Metro takes that into account. A lot of the indirect lighting in the "gap" between the platform "rail" and the tunnel walls is filthy. Part of the gloom factor is caused by dirty fluorescent lamps.

by Paul on Nov 28, 2009 5:54 pm • linkreport

I like the new lighting. I think some of you need to be a little less concerned with aesthetics so you can focus on safety and functionality. The system was designed in the 60's and built in the 70's... fashion and what's 'en vogue' have changed since then--let's not be stuck in a rut! The system is generally too dark and it's too easy to trip or bump into something because you can't see! I just want more light in the stations at a low cost and on a quick timeframe... so let's not make WMATA spend years to find just the right color temperature for the bulbs--who really cares?! But if we are to sit around and talk lighting style, I'm more inclined to go toward the new LED lighting in car #3146... yes it's a bit cold, but it's bright, easy on the eyes, and makes the tacky colors of the pink carpet and red/blue/yellow seat covers seem a little less offensive to the eyes... some of those older cars with warmer lighting cause the yellowed walls and orange tackyness to be just that much more disgusting!...

All that to say, "Good job WMATA, please green light the installation of these lights in the rest of the system for those of us with normal human vision requiring illumination to function."

by Matt on Nov 28, 2009 8:20 pm • linkreport

I have thought of a solution that was similar to this one. However my configuration places the fixture roughly 9' 6" above the floor and aims of the fixture at right angle to the point they would be hung from, roughly 15 degrees if they were hung from the third reveal from the center line on the station. The fixtures shown in the picture are hung from second reveal and are roughly 10' above the floor and are pointed vertically. By lowering fixtures and aiming them at roughly 15 degrees, the area between the crown and the side of the vault would be better illuminated. To keep the lighting even, my configuration runs the full length of the station vault.

Another more expensive idea I had, places florescent or neon tubes above the perimeter of the coffer acoustical panels just outside of direct view. The light would reflect off the sides of the coffers illuminating the areas below. All of the coffers with acoustical panels in the full length of the vault would be fitted with the florescent or neon fixtures. The major downside of this idea is getting the power to the fixtures.

Alex B and Pual pretty much nailed the reason why station are so dimly lit. Dirt and grime accumulating on the concrete surfaces and on the light fixture reflectors. Before train started rolling through the stations they were visibly brighter then they are today.

The primary reason why dirt and grime accumulates so easily to concrete surfaces is because they were sand blasted to remove the sheen left behind by the slick fiberglas and metal forms. The sand blasting roughened the surface of the concrete allowing dirt and grime to accumulate to the greater surface area. Power washing helps, but doesn't quite get all of the dirt and grime out of the roughened surface.

The 'painting' that was done to some of the stations appears to me to be some kind of portland cement based coating not paint as one would typically define it.

by Sand Box John on Nov 28, 2009 8:26 pm • linkreport

Sand Box John,

I'm having a hard time visualizing what you're suggesting but any option that gets light in the places it's most needed is really fine with me! As for the dirt and grime, you're all totally correct but there is one more facet to that--replacing dead bulbs! Some stations will have entire banks of dead (or dying) bulbs... but in some stations (like most recently Dupont, Georgia Ave, and Columbia Heights) where they have done an entire "lighting overhaul" the stations now look great with the existing lighting... the problem is that Metro just doesn't do a good job of cleaning or changing out bulbs when needed. I also think in older stations they were putting in a lower watt bulb... the stations that have seen replacements of the bulbs seem to have much brighter bulbs in the fixtures!

On the painted look, I must say as unpopular an opinion as it is, I kind of like the painted look (as I've seen it in the Archives-Navy Mem'l station)... yes it might get dirty and show worse, but it sure looks really nice in places where it doesn't get as dirty (like the top of the vault dome). I almost think that the bare concrete looks worse dirty than the painted... I mean look at stations like Mt. Vernon Square, which have extensive rust and grime patterns on the wall from dripping water. Or stations like many of those on the red line route to Shady Grove which have plant life growing in the lighting vaults! I didn't think plants could grow in such conditions, and chances are, they didn't spring up there over night. Clearly Metro isn't doing a good job of cleaning up stations.

One thing that bugs me about Metro is their habitual pattern of "experimenting"--rather than just pick something and go with it, Metro is bent on testing things in one or two stations. The problem is, they never fully implement the tested idea! We've seen LED light testing in rail car 3146 that's never since been seen in any other car. We have new flooring and wool seat covers in a few cars running up and down the green line that have NEVER been put in any other car since. We had the new LED lighting put in quite some time ago in the Foggy Bottom station that has (pardon the pun) never seen the light of day in any other station, and finally we have new (and improved) lighted signage in Gallery Place that has yet to be added to any other station where it would be highly useful! What is it with these people and experiments that never go anywhere or become standard?! Just a personal rant if you will....

by Matt on Nov 28, 2009 8:43 pm • linkreport


The vertical bars that support the fixture in the picture below are hung from the second reveal (linear seam between coffers) from the reveal along the center line of the vault. The second reveal is roughly 9 degrees of arc from a vertical line at the center line of the station vault. The third reveal is roughly 15 degrees of arc from that same vertical line.

Look closely at the image, you will notice that the two coffers on either side of the center line are better lit then the fourth coffer from the center line. That's because the fixture is aimed straight up. Tilt the fixtures outwards and the fourth coffers would be lit almost equally compared to two coffers on either side of the center line. Move the fixture outwards one reveal, lower it and tilt it to 15 degrees and the fixture will light six coffers instead of four.

This is how I would mount a florescent or neon tube behind the acoustical panels.

The acoustical panel/light fixture would be a single plug in unit to allow easy removal for cleaning and or tube replacement.

by Sand Box John on Nov 29, 2009 12:51 am • linkreport

I think some of you need to be a little less concerned with aesthetics so you can focus on safety and functionality.

Can you point to any serious safety problems caused not by poor maintenance, but by poor lighting. I find certain stations uncomfortably dark - but that's still an aesthetic concern. Some of the worst aesthetic damage in this city has been done with a call of "Let's fix it now!!!! Solve the problem fast!" No, Metro should take the time to study an effective, economical, and beautiful solution to the problem.

With aesthetics, it's always fashionable to pooh-pooh aesthetics - but when people talk about the je ne sais quoi of streetcars as an advantage over BRT or whatever, that is fundamentally an aesthetic argument. You can say it's irrational, but people do value the way things look and feel. Why else do you think the nastiest arguments on this blog are about architecture?

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 29, 2009 1:18 am • linkreport

Oh, also, with the concrete. I'd rather the stations stayed bare, even with a few leaks. Those leaks look much worse when they're coming through paint. Plus, once you've painted the walls, you have to keep doing it. There is no way to undo it.

There seem to be three features that make a difference: curvature, waffling, and concrete type. The stations where metro used poured-in-place concrete are definitely the darkest. At station that used precast concrete, the contractors were able to use whiter concrete that significantly helps. Station with the full waffle tend to be poured-in-place, but they also ten to have the big thick coffers that catch light and splash it down onto the tracks. Stations that are smoother have less architectural content, but are appreciably lighter. Finally, the curvature seems to matter. Stations that are wider seem too be darker, while stations that are taller seem to let more light onto the platform, especially when trains have moved in. For a total comparison of the two, look at Clarendon versus Cleveland Park. Worlds of difference.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 29, 2009 1:31 am • linkreport

Nei: There's nothing I can't stand more than someone who is stuck living in the past and can't accept change; who is so hung up on the beauty of something that they forget about how practical it is... I've found that the typical Washingtonian "preservationist" is often the rudest and most inconsiderate person around--all these people care about is making sure their self-righteous need for nostalgia is met by holding back progress and preventing changes like wheelchair ramps, sidewalk repair, etc. Some things just have to change, like it or not! I guess you must have perfect eye sight and have never gone into a station and stumbled over something while your eyes adjust to the lower level of lighting? If you're so into the beauty of the stations, I would think you would want more lighting in them so that people can actually see the architecture of them! If you'd prefer to wait for your train in a damp, dark, dirty cave, go to NYC. The Metro was designed with the intent of being a bright, cheery, modern, and efficient system--today it is none of those things! It has aged, its looks are dated, the system is falling apart, and efficiency out the window long ago... so I see no harm in adding a little extra lighting to try and help those who need some additional lighting to see where they are going in the stations; thank you so much for your consideration! And as for street cars, I think it's appalling that the only thing holding up the plan is the ban on overheard wires--for goodness sakes who really cares if a few extra wires hang if it allows us to ease congestion and increase the flow of transit!? Another perfect example of people too concerned about aesthetics with no focus on the future which NEEDS these street cars! And no, there are few (if any) viable, reliable, and inexpensive methods of power transfer for street cars that can easily work in conjunction with overheard wires... so this problem may NEVER be solved until someone can bring some sense to Congress (wow that's asking a lot!)

SandBox: That's an interesting concept that I've actually doodled out on paper myself... but I wonder if it's the most effective considering all the work that would have to be done to get lighting up there (running power and all that). I still think that just finding smaller lighting units, and re-positioning them in the right places would be the best solution. There are lighting fixtures out there that are intentionally designed to scatter light and give the appearance of being indirect--which is what's needed in that center area--as I do agree that those hanging lights do shine a bit too much light on the ceiling and not enough on the floor.

by Matt on Nov 29, 2009 9:33 am • linkreport


Running power to the coffers is the biggest issue as there is a matrix of rebar, #18 radially and #9 linearly, roughly 2" behind the surface of the concrete. It wouldn't be a cheap job to do, but think it could be done as the rebar was very accurately placed. All of the structural plans of stations had detailed drawing that show the rebar layout.

Getting the power to the coffers in the stations north of Farragut North and in Rosslyn would not be an issue as the top and sides of the vaults in those stations are accessible.

Dupont Circle looking north after the completion of the installation of the 284 precats concrete arch vault units. End of arch in the foreground is at the south end of the platform.
WMATA photo by Paul Myatt

P.S. I have been up there.

by Sand Box John on Nov 29, 2009 11:03 am • linkreport

Matt - I don't want to have to see everybody and everything in the metro. It's bad enough without having everything all lit up. Lighting creates atmosphere. Call me unmodern if you will, but I don't want the metro turned into every other generic florescent office.

by wd on Nov 30, 2009 7:54 am • linkreport

wd: That's just selfish... and silly! I guess your comfort is more important than the general safety and overall appeal of the system... maybe if Metro stations were a little brighter and less gloomy it would have a secondary effect of discouraging jumpers too! You want to sit in darkness, fine bring a blindfold with you and some ear plugs than you can avoid all human contact :-) don't make all of us have to stumble around in the dark too!!!

by Matt on Nov 30, 2009 8:30 am • linkreport

The lighting in Metro is awesome - I feel like I'm in gotham when Im down there. Keep the shadows, it fits all the closed door type activities that go on in this city.

by staypuftman on Nov 30, 2009 10:00 am • linkreport

I am totally at a loss to understand what problem the new lighting is supposed to fix. Sure, the stations seem dim when compared to say, daylight, but you are underground for goodness sake! There is actually plenty of light to see. No one is stumbling around. The indirect lighting of the vaults was a sophisticated design reaction to the indiscriminate over-illumination of just about every other space we experience. The stations are an important public space that is supposed to look different than a store or an office. I believe energy efficiency was also a consideration.

The introduction of new bright lighting is likely to cause problems, though. Visibility is a function of light levels but is also affected by contrast and the eye's ability to adjust quickly as it moves from bright to dim. The new grossly bright surfaces will make the more subtle indirectly lit areas seem darker, and probably lead to an unnecessary and unattractive new lighting scheme that is will undoubtedly diminish the specialness and the grandeur of the station design and -- along with the illuminated billboards and the ads on the side of the trains -- bring the stations closer to being another generic McSubway.

by Ron Eichner on Nov 30, 2009 11:35 am • linkreport

It just amazes me that so many of you are so stuck on the station appearence! Does nobody believe in the concept of form over function?! Bash NYC subway all you want for it's appearence, but it is a system that has been in operation for over a century and covers 4x as much area and carries 3x the traffic... I'd say that it's functionality and service far outweigh whatever it lacks in appearence! It's not as if Metro stations are historic monuments either, most have been open no more than 30 years and may far less, 90% of the green line has only been operating for less than 10 years! Yet you're all ready to memorialize their design?! It's just beyond me. If sacrificing a little bit of aesthetics makes Metro safer, more reliable, easier to navigate, and yes, brighter (which I feel is also better looking)--than I'm willing to take that. The system has already changed in appearence from what it once was, you're probably going to have to just get used to change and deal with it! We all sit in brightly lit offices all day long... deal with it!
Washington...the city of keeping things the way they've always been for the sake of certainty...

by Matt on Dec 2, 2009 8:38 am • linkreport

Isn't it possible to improve safety and appearance at the same time? Why do we have to screw things up to make them work better?

I don't see the connection to New York. So it's vastly bigger... which does not, and has never been hindered by aesthetics - in fact, the periods of most growth were also some of the finest for station architecture.

Do you want your home to be lit like an office? The streets? The Metro? Perhaps you do, but I suggest you get used to other people having different values.

And is there really a problem with the darkness, other than an aesthetic one? Prove that people are stumbling around and killing themselves because of the darkness.

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 2, 2009 9:40 am • linkreport

Increased lighting will increase costs. Installation, maintenance and ELECTRICTY. I'm all in favor of replacing older fixtures with fixtures that require less maintenance and use less energy. That said, there are way too many other higher priority maintenance issues on Metro to justify fixing a lighting problem that few ever identified as a problem. Say no to new unnecessary costs on the system.

by Larry Martin on Dec 4, 2009 5:51 pm • linkreport

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