August 25, 2006 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Beautiful Subways --worldwide--from palatial to postmodern, folksy to brutalist (pee smells not included--and don't miss Tehran's)
posted by amberglow (48 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'm about to head home on Chicago's el system (beginning underground where I'm at) and I'm a bit depressed. Great site, thanks!
posted by agregoli at 2:21 PM on August 25, 2006

Excellent, thanks amberglow!
posted by carter at 2:37 PM on August 25, 2006

Great site -- they even found something nice to say about NYC's underground rat sauna!
posted by brain_drain at 2:38 PM on August 25, 2006

I'm *definitely* going to Bilbao now.
Eh, I wouldn't put New York subways in the 'beautiful' realm, but the stations don't much smell like piss anymore, so there's that...
posted by nj_subgenius at 2:40 PM on August 25, 2006

Yeah, seeing all these definitely makes me hate the new york subway system even more... Gotta go catch the L train... sigh...
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 2:51 PM on August 25, 2006

i know, nj--ours are the ugliest and dirtiest of the whole crowd, i thought--we do have excellent people-watching tho, in our favor.
posted by amberglow at 2:51 PM on August 25, 2006

Pfft. Newcastle upon Tyne's contribution to the beautiful subways pantheon is a waiting room in Four Lane Ends. Oh well.

I'd have suggested the faded seaside glamour of Tynemouth station, perhaps the only subway station in the world you can buy bric-a-brac while listening to seagulls overhead and classical music piped in to deter hooligans. The corrosion feels like it's stinging your eyes.

As for London, my favourite parts of the tube are the Jubilee line escalators at Westminster station, the Northern Line platforms at Charing Cross and Wapping station just next to the Thames Tunnel, the world's first underwater traffic tunnel, built by Brunel.
posted by randomination at 2:51 PM on August 25, 2006

Am I the only one who's seen every single one of those images on the web (and other blogspots) before? oh no, might I be a subwaytrainspotter!?
posted by dabitch at 3:19 PM on August 25, 2006

Hey NY! At least you have a subway...

*sigh* by and by, I suppose....

Cool post, amberglow!
posted by owhydididoit at 3:24 PM on August 25, 2006

Yet more evidence that Toronto may in fact be the ugliest city in the entire world.

But she be faithful, and so I be too.

TTC 4eva.
posted by Alex404 at 3:28 PM on August 25, 2006

The subway station I really like in Toronto is on the new spur and it has all these hand-written tiles with the name of the station on them. They're just kind of cool.

Not quite as cool as all those ex-soviet stations, though, which look as much like opera houses as subway stations.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:41 PM on August 25, 2006

Most of the newer subway systems pictured here have that slick highly polished style found in airports - modern, efficient, and easy to keep clean. Nothing wrong with that, since that's pretty much what you'd want in your mass transit system.

But for real jaw-dropping splendor you can't beat the Soviet subways of the 1930s. Underground palaces for the people, indeed! Ornate, lavish, full of intricate details, and often each station is unique. Unlike modern stations, where your eyes slide unobstructed along shiny tile walls, the old stations in Moscow offer plenty of interesting details to admire while waiting for your train.

I visited Moscow briefly in the early 1980s and was floored by the subway stations. Much of the city aboveground (apart from main tourist spots like Red Square) was rundown and shabby, but the subway stations were beautifully maintained. Perhaps being sheltered from the elements was part of it, but it seemed like there was a real appreciation of these stations as a national treasure of sorts, and they were kept as clean and lovely as any museum. It seems from these pictures that they've been kept up - kudos to the Commissar of Subways!
posted by Quietgal at 4:04 PM on August 25, 2006

I can't believe the palatial interiors of the glasgow subway system arent included here - designed by charles rennie mackintosh's younger brother - shug mackintosh , they really are worth a look.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:08 PM on August 25, 2006

Martin Kippenberger's Metro-net is an international subway system. (click on the city names) Entrances and vents have been built in various parts of the world. Ones hopes that at some point they will be connected.... My personal favorite is the floating subway entrance, in Kassel.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:23 PM on August 25, 2006

What?! No Church Street Station in San Francisco? No ANY station in San Francisco? Oh, I forgot: we fear public art. The closest we get are the Target ads currently pasted to the stairs at Embarcadero Station.

I love the Stockholm one. I wish they had pictures of the really old wooden trains in the Buenos Aires Subte. On some of them you have to open the doors yourself and hope they don't start to take off at the same time! In one station, the escalator steps are made of wood.

Thanks for the cool post!
posted by Lockjaw at 4:35 PM on August 25, 2006

Superb post, mesmerizing photographs. I was just mentally composing a "What, no Buenos Aires?!" comment when I hit the B.A. pictures. (I'm surprised how many of these subways I've been on in my checkered career; like quietgal, I have a particular fondness for the Soviet ones.) Thanks, amberglow!
posted by languagehat at 4:57 PM on August 25, 2006

Subways are some of the most tragic places of the world. Each one of these photos makes me want to cry.

How many sad little men have you seen sliding through these barren, lifeless tunnels beneath the ground - perhaps joylessly eating a sandwich not for the pleasure of food, but because his body is a machine that he regrets he must maintain? How many of those beholden to their jobs and routines have been whisked through those sliding doors to the place where their life is held in perpetual escrow for a paycheck? Haven't you ever seen a young couple fight, with one of the parties storming from the platform to the car, shrugging off the masked affection of their opposite with the arrogance that only youth can harbour? They'll probably never meet again, never have a chance to chase after the other and beg forgiveness and understanding and for another chance. Because once you get on the subway, you're gone.

Subways are where love, spirit, hope and peace are extinguished.

Men shoulder-to-shoulder with each other, women peering into their chests as they all clutch for balance to the rungs above. Each secretly hating the unnatural crowding, feeling like an ant in an anthill that has been too prosperous, and has too many humble workers clogging the paths. Who in their right mind would choose the sweaty heat of a subterranean car if they could instead be somewhere the fields run forever? Subways are proof that we are victims of our own success, and can no longer manage to live in a natural state.

It's living, but it's living on a course charted in the cold, clean lines of technology. Any chance or randomness is considered a problem to be fixed, rather than an opportunity for experience and true living. You can put a mask on it, you can hire some artists to put up some murals and statues and interesting lights. But the art betrays itself, for this art is itself static and unchanging, doomed to grow stale and unnoticed by the hundreds of thousands that stare straight past it every day.

The subway makes me sad.
posted by kfx at 5:16 PM on August 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Wow kfk, the subway in NYC is one of my favorite things in the world.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:22 PM on August 25, 2006

Subways are some of the most tragic places of the world. Each one of these photos makes me want to cry.
How many sad little men have you seen sliding through these barren, lifeless tunnels beneath the ground ...
The subway makes me sad.

Wow, talk about projection. When I think of the subway, I think of joyous couples ignoring their surroundings, people absorbed in a book, guys demonstrating their one-handed-balance skills, people of all varieties coexisting in reasonable amity... The subway makes me happy. I think you just have a fear of being underground or something.
posted by languagehat at 5:30 PM on August 25, 2006

kfx, that was beautifully said, but it's wonderful people-watching and it's real--they also enabled people to live further out, in places with more greenspace and light than ever before--people could be stuck in a lousy sweatshop in Manhattan or factory floor in Hunts Point jobwise, but actually live near a park or in a larger, lighter space in the Bronx or Queens, as opposed to being stuck working wherever you happened to live or having to rely on transfers and streetcars. Subways really improved lives in many many cities.

All you guys who didn't see something that should be there should google for pics and email the webmaster--he'll put em up.
posted by amberglow at 5:36 PM on August 25, 2006

Also, many of the people I know who ride the subway everyday, don't own cars... cars make me sad.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:39 PM on August 25, 2006

The closest we get are the Target ads currently pasted to the stairs at Embarcadero Station.

It's especially odd considering there are no Target stores within San Francisco.
posted by gyc at 5:47 PM on August 25, 2006

It's also depressing how decrepit and ugly the BART and MUNI stations are in San Francisco.
posted by gyc at 5:47 PM on August 25, 2006

Great post, amberglow!

I particularly liked the Tashkent and Stockholm photos and now, feel inadequate that my own subway is so . . . utilitarian. Bare tiles and ads for godawful movies.
posted by jason's_planet at 5:54 PM on August 25, 2006

Subways are some of the most tragic places of the world.

If this were Ask.Me, I'd suggest therapy.

I drive if I've got to get somewhere mundane like work or the bank. The subway is what I choose when I'm whisking off to do something interesting and new, to have an experience (or just to drink).

It's also a place where I'm captively forced to just chill out for awhile (I like airports for this, too), where I can, without any degree of guilt, indulge in a trashy novel or knit something.

I find subways tremendously freeing in a variety of ways and that you can look at them and see none of the incredibleness that is mass freedom of movement for millions of people is a tragedy, but of your own making.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:12 PM on August 25, 2006

Has anybody looked at the website for Tehran's subway system? It's a beautiful, comprehensive and user-friendly guide for getting around Iran's capital. In English*. With schedule information helpfully given in "Christian's months" as well. Not the sort of thing you'd expect from a country that is supposedly planning to nuke the infidels.

*If I interpret the HTML correctly, the main site is the English version. The Farsi site has "/farsi" in the URL, making it a subdirectory (or something) of the main site.

Sigh ... I wish BART and Muni had such a spiffy website ...

posted by Quietgal at 6:31 PM on August 25, 2006

One of my favorite things to do in a new city is check out the subway. For various reasons the metro in dc and the london underground are my favorites.

kfx, I disagree with you (though depending on my mood, the ny subway could easily be depressing), but I can certainly see where you're coming from. Ignore those who suggest therapy or simply can't grasp that your opinions of subways are different than theirs.
posted by justgary at 7:37 PM on August 25, 2006

Subways are some of the most tragic places of the world.

I suppose that you prefer highways and traffic jams?

Man, Robert Moses woulda loved you...
posted by Afroblanco at 8:00 PM on August 25, 2006

I like the L — you can see things! and those alarming lurches when you make a sharp turn are much more exciting when you're 30 feet off the ground — but man have we got some ugly stations. (Well, except for the ones where the yuppies live, which actually have some character.) I suppose that's what you get when you have the mayor's precinct chiefs' buddies' more inept cousins in charge of a major public transit system. Ian Hixie wrote about the New York subway:
I've been to this city before, but this time the subway really reminded me of post-apocalyptic representations as seen in, e.g., Half-Life 2: the dirty, dirty stations that look like they've been abandoned for fifty years which you see in such games turn out to actually be correct representations of the stations as they stand today.
New York's subways never seemed that bad to me, but Chicago's sure are. (1, 2 — not very good pictures, the stairwells and exit-only turnstiles are really where you want to look for your real high-class urban grit and decay.)
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:11 PM on August 25, 2006

I'm sorry the the subway makes you sad kfx. Come on down to Atlanta some time and I'll let you drive (ha!) my car (no radio, no A/C) around our lovely highways for a few hours. It might make you feel a bit better about subways.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 8:22 PM on August 25, 2006

I love the NYC subway. But I have to agree that most of the stations are filthy and in need of renovation. And today, I was in one station that smelled so bad that I thought I would puke (I couldn't tell whether the smell was heat related or something else).

Great post, amberglow.
posted by bim at 9:31 PM on August 25, 2006

A great big thanks. I love this link. I love everyone's comments on beautiful places missed.

It makes me sad at the state of things in San Francisco. I hope someone sends this to the mayor and the head of MUNI and simply says "Shame on us."
posted by smallerdemon at 9:41 PM on August 25, 2006

Well, in defense of NYC's subway, those old mosaics (like the one pictured on the site) are indeed beautiful, you have to admit.

I noticed that they included the much-heralded Oedo line here in Tokyo. I remember when they were building it a few years ago: there was a lot of fanfare about each station being designed by a different architect or artist or whatever, but most of the stations I've seen along the line are either just ho-hum or genuinely ugly. Tokyo has a wonderfully efficient system, with trains running so on time that you can, literally, set your watch to them, but it's also the most mind-numbingly boring system (in terms of station architecture) that I've ever seen.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:33 PM on August 25, 2006

[NYC subways] are the ugliest and dirtiest of the whole crowd

Riding the NYC subway is a trip through the colon of the city.

No, seriously. The subway tunnels do double-duty as sewer tunnels.
posted by PsychoKick at 12:50 AM on August 26, 2006

Metro Bits.*
posted by peacay at 1:04 AM on August 26, 2006

The Zurich one at the top looks like a room from Quake.
posted by rxrfrx at 3:40 AM on August 26, 2006

Nice post.

Also, randomination, I agree about the Tynemouth Metro station.
posted by klausness at 4:32 AM on August 26, 2006

I liked Tokyo's, but found it to be integrated terribly (or i guess it's that it's not really integrated at all--with separate companies and multiple pay options, etc--we used to have that here with diff. companies operating different lines), but it was fast and there were stops everywhere, and the signage was really clear and easy even tho i couldn't read or speak Japanese. The stopping around midnight thing sucks tho--London's too.

I sometimes think it's the lighting that makes ours seem so dingy--some of the pics on that site showed what a giant different lighting makes overall. DC's lack of lighting has always made it seem basement-like and mean to me too.
posted by amberglow at 8:01 AM on August 26, 2006

(oh, and the incredibly common sleeping gas effect of Tokyo's subways on its residents remains one of the most remarkable things about my trip there)
posted by amberglow at 8:03 AM on August 26, 2006

the incredibly common sleeping gas effect of Tokyo's subways

posted by Afroblanco at 9:45 AM on August 26, 2006

Afro-- These past few days, I've done a a few unscientific surveys during our extended rides through the Tokyo subway system. ... -Most of the time, Tokyo-ites on the subway was doing one of three things: dozing off, reading a book, or clicking away on their flip phone. I calculate these three account for 90% of the activities performed by subway riders.
-On average, percentage of riders sleeping, dozing off, or about to doze off: 60% ...
(there are tons of reports about it online, and coming from here in NY where it's rare to see sleeping people during the day (or even at night really) on the trains, it struck me every single time i was on a train there, and that was multiple times a day)
posted by amberglow at 10:00 AM on August 26, 2006

and this flickr pool, Afro, shows it all.
posted by amberglow at 10:11 AM on August 26, 2006

I like the pure scale of the Washington subway. Those are some damn big tubes deep in the ground, and the way they intersect at connections is fascinating.

The entryway areas are not so great though. Escalators down to big boxes.
posted by smackfu at 1:34 PM on August 26, 2006

amberglow - tripped out. I would conjecture that the subways in Tokyo are remarkably safe.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:27 PM on August 26, 2006

the whole city was, i found--it was really indicative of difference in general: that so many feel so comfortable overall that they can just fall asleep in public without worry or fear in the midst of a ton of other people and while traversing a really big city.
posted by amberglow at 2:50 PM on August 26, 2006

I'm sure the Astor Place subway stationin Manhattan was once beautiful.

Unfortunately, this photo with the cracked ceiling is all too typical of the overall look today. It breaks my heart.
posted by bim at 4:19 PM on August 26, 2006

I live in Washington DC and the Metro here doesn't look as sexy as these pictures convey.
posted by grovercleveland at 1:06 PM on August 27, 2006

I live in Washington DC and the Metro here doesn't look as sexy as these pictures convey.

Come visit us in San Francisco for a comparison point and you'll go back to DC feeling a lot better about the beauty of your subway system. :)
posted by smallerdemon at 12:34 PM on August 29, 2006

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