Thursday, March 13, 2014


Commuters found a brighter atmosphere at the Friendship Heights Metro station this week, as WMATA installed new lighting.

Whether it is new and improved is up to your individual opinion. As an unabashed fan of Harry Weese's design concepts, I have always been satisfied with the architecture and atmosphere of the subway system since my first ride decades ago. Whatever reduction in light has occurred since then, based on my reading on the topic, has been more the result of dirt buildup on the surfaces of the station interiors, light fixtures, and from dirt blown in from the tunnels. The indirect lighting has always been a distinctive feature, and critical to the overall design concept. Improvements should be consistent with that original design, not subvert it.

I'm far from the only fan of that design, as the recent uproar over Metro's plans to "update" the system's stations demonstrated. Weese was recently recognized for his Metro designs by AIA, which gave him its 25 Year Award. Like Earo Saarinen, LĂșcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, Weese managed to turn utilitarian infrastructure into an art form. An experience.

The station designs are (we soon may have to say, "were") distinctive, elegant, modern, and - frankly - make most other systems look cheap and tacky by comparison. Some people want to water it down, and make it more like the bland stations elsewhere. To each his (or her) own, I suppose. Apparently, being a fan of the old design and "Metro brown" has somehow become an unforgivable political statement to some.

A political statement? So be it. The best art usually is controversial. Tacky is, well, just tacky.

But for Metro to make cosmetic updates a top priority when trains still can't run automatically, and stations are still being shut down on weekends, and workers still aren't safe, and escalators don't work, and...etc., is definitely not the best use of resources and time.


John Splain said...

Cosmetic? Many stations are so dark that for patrons with low vision they are downright dangerous. Thank you Metro for finally beginning to make lighting upgrades.

John Splain
Montgomery County Chapter President
Foundation Fighting Blindness

Eric said...

I have to agree with John. The Metro's design is iconic and distinct, but - for whatever reason(s) - station lighting has deteriorated significantly over the past several years. For safety and security - of those with low vision and for all Metro travelers - these improvements are welcome. First Bethesda, now Friendship Heights. This is very good progress.

Robert Dyer said...

All I'm saying is that they could restore lighting to its original level without measures that are inconsistent with the distinctive design. Apparently, they prefer the cheaper alternative, rather than addressing the real causes of the reduced lighting.

Steve Auerbach said...

First Bethesda?
I don't see any improvement in Bethesda