Wednesday, November 7, 2007

'Arch'etypes: Part 1

I started my "Introducing Washington" series with a post on the Mall, the center of federal Washington. My next installment gives me a chance to spend some time introducing one of my favorite parts of the metropolitan region. 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.

It is only fitting that Metro gets a post in the Introducing Washington series. This is the public space that links 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.

This is the first post of several which will describe Washington's subway. In this installment, I focus on station types. 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.

Beneath the Streets: 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. I'll focus more on those details in a later post, first let's look at the major differences.

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.

Waffle architecture is present in 32 stations:
  • Red Line: Union Station to Dupont Circle
  • Orange Line: Court House to Ballston
  • Green Line: U Street, Shaw, Archives, Waterfront, Navy Yard
  • Blue Line: Capitol Heights to Rosslyn, Pentagon to Crystal City

Waffle at
Crystal City

Arch I

The second major design in the Metro system, I am calling 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 different 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 architecture is present at 7 stations:
  • The Red Line from Woodley Park to Medical Center is the only section to include Arch I.

Arch I at
Cleveland Park

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 design is my personal favorite.

Arch II designs are found at 6 stations:
  • The Red Line: Glenmont
  • The Green Line: Congress Heights, Mount Vernon Square, Columbia Heights, Georgia Avenue, and the lower level of Fort Totten

Arch II at
Columbia 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 at
Forest Glen

Above-ground Stations
The stations which are not underground cannot have the large vaults that characterize the rest of the system.

Gull Wing I
In order to maintain the connectivity of the architectural elements of the system, the surface and elevated stations had a vault-like roof consisting of sweeping concrete 'wings.' I refer to this design as the Gull Wing I design. It is characteristic of the older outdoor stations.

Gull Wing I designs can be found at 14 stations:
  • Red Line: Silver Spring, Fort Totten (upper level), Takoma, Brookland, Rhode Island Avenue, Shady Grove
  • Orange Line: New Carrollton to Minnesota Avenue
  • Yellow Line: Eisenhower Avenue
  • Blue Line: National Airport (half of platforms) , Van Dorn Street

Gull Wing I at

Peaked Roof I
The next design, Peaked Roof I, is found at 2 stations only. These stations, on the Blue and Yellow Lines, are at Braddock Road and King Street in Alexandria. The Peaked Roof I design consists of a steeply sloped roof with skylights in the center.

Peaked Roof I at
King Street

Peaked Roof II
A more common design, Peaked Roof II can be found at many surface stations. It consists of a flat roof over the platform with a section of clear skylights forming a peak in the center (along a line parallel to the tracks).

Peaked Roof II can be found at 16 stations:
  • Red Line: Grosvenor to Rockville
  • Orange Line: East Falls Church to Vienna
  • Green Line: Branch Avenue to Southern Avenue, College Park, Greenbelt
  • Blue Line: Franconia-Springfield, Addison Road

Peaked Roof II at

Gull Wing II

The newest design for the Metro includes this type of architecture. It differs greatly in many aspects from earlier designs. There are notable differences in color, materials, and motif elements. These stations are all of those constructed beyond the original system (which was completed in January of 2001). This design can be found at only 3 stations: New York Avenue on the Red Line and Morgan Boulevard and Largo Town Center on the Blue Line.

Gull Wing II at
Largo Town Center

Unique Designs

Several stations differ from these basic designs. They are worthy of mention because of their nonconformity. There are 5 unique stations in the system.
  • Yellow: Huntington
  • Green: Anacostia, Prince George's Plaza, West Hyattsville
  • Blue: Arlington Cemetery

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Other unique designs include Fort Totten (1/2 inside, 1/2 outside), and Rosslyn which has tracks on two different levels in the same tube.