Friday, May 20, 2011

"Dignity and Elegance" or "Theater of Absurdity and Cruelty?"

Photo via Flickr o palsson

Like the Metro system, the architecture of Metro engenders love or hate.

Places, "an interdisciplinary journal of contemporary architecture, landscape and urbanism," has an interesting write up on Metro's chief architect, Harry Weese.

In the article, Weese is said to have wanted to design the system that would allow riders to travel with "dignity and even elegance."

Critics, however, have likened Weese's creation to a "repressive monolith."

One of those critics, Marshall Berman, an American philosopher, was quoted in the article with this description of Metro's architecture:
Walls and ceilings were massive monoliths, with facades unbroken by colors or diverse materials or signs. We passengers were encased in enormous voids shaped by barrel-vaulted ceilings, and by vast blots of blackness at the platform's ends, pressing us toward them like black holes in outer space. Meanwhile, pulling us upward, escalators seemed to surge up from the bowels of the earth. Lighting was not only too dim to read by, it also transformed people of every color into shades. You couldn't get a clear view of the person next to you, or else, getting off a train, you lost your view of the person next to you. ... Before long, I realized that the system was a kind of theater of absurdity and cruelty, whose scenery seemed contrived to create anxiety.
Sounds like he was at least there on a day the escalators were working.

The author of the article further argues that Weese rejected "functional richness for grand, rational spaces."

Of transfer stations he article writes:
two vaults intersect in a bilevel cruciform with no transfer mezzanine, forcing nearly every passenger to squeeze through the same narrow widths of platform at the center. Spatial majesty comes at the price of inefficiency and crowding.
L'Enfant Plaza comes to mind.

The author concludes that Metro's look and feel is impressive to the visitor or infrequent user, but regular use renders it "tedious and stuffy" and "obdurate and overbearing."

What do you think? Is Metro an architectural masterpiece worthy of the #106 spot in the list of America's Favorite Architecture, or is it a pee pee soaked heck hole?

If you want a complete rundown on all that went into Metro's creation, this is a great book.

Other items:
Metro has "saftey stand down" (WTOP)
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