It is time to add subway stations to travelers must-see lists. Some of the most inspiring public spaces incorporating large-scale art and design can be found in many cities’ metro stations.
SubArt’s new Subway Art Guide highlights subway stations where riders and visitors enjoy a positive experience thanks to the impact of large-scale art and design. Giving artists and designers a seat at the table with engineers and transit planners produces dramatic results felt by riders, visitors, transit systems, and cities as a whole. Benefits include increased ridership and tourism, creation of a sense of place, and community, as well as decreased greenhouse gas emissions, vandalism, and commuter boredom.
Explore these must-see metro systems around the world.
Art fills Argentina’s Subte stations with installations that pay homage to history and local culture. Corrientes station. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Buenos Aires, Argentina. With the Subte subway system in operation since 1913 – making it the oldest subway in the Southern Hemisphere and the Spanish-speaking world – riders can experience works spanning from intricate ceramic tile mosaics representing historical events, to vividly-colored murals paying homage to tango music and dance, to contemporary spray-painted or stenciled “street art”. Local and international artists have contributed to the underground museum by creating everything from station-sized art installations to personal pieces about the city. These works are considered part of Buenos Aires’s cultural heritage, with several stations declared National Historic Landmarks.
Pyongyang’s Yŏnggwang (Glory) station showcases pillars reflecting victory torches, chandeliers representing fireworks, and large nationalist murals. Pyongyang, North Korea.
Pyongyang, North Korea. Reported to have secret government-only subway lines as well as military tunnels and installations, the Pyongyang metro system has elaborate décor portraying their revolutionary history and the regime’s leaders. The system, one of the deepest metro systems in the world, doubles as a bomb shelter. Unlike other metro systems, the station names—Triumph, Victory, and Paradise—reflect nationalistic values rather than the stations’ geographic locations. Pillars reflect victory torches and lighting fixtures represent fireworks. Visitors can tour two showcase stations on a docent led tour. The other stations can be enjoyed virtually through SubArt’s station guide.
Moscow’s metro takes advantage of their elaborate architectural design throughout their stations, incorporating art and lighting to enhance the user experience. Komsomolskaya Station. Moscow, Russia.
Moscow, Russia. Moscow’s “palaces for the people” is arguably the most classical metro system. Elegant Baroque and Deco elements include chandeliers, delicate plaster, marble, and tile work celebrate the artistic history of Czarist palaces in the transit stations.
Beijing’s metro system enhances rider experience with colorful lighting and pillars.
Zoological Gardens Station. Beijing, China.
Beijing, China: Originally, Beijing’s metro system was simple. With recent expansions and redesign in 2013 and 2014, the stations have become more ornate, inviting, and reflective of the region and culture. Olympic Green station (known as the forest station) evokes an enchanted forest, and many stations highlight aspects of Chinese history and culture, such as the Beitucheng station which was inspired by delicate Chinese porcelain.
Brussels’ metro has embraced local artists work in a broad range of materials and styles.
Bizet metro station. Brussels, Belgium.
Brussels, Belgium: Beginning during its construction in the 1960s, Brussels’ metro planners embraced the power of art to create brilliant public spaces. Artists and designers have utilized a range of mediums including stained glass, paintings, sculpture, tile work, lighting, and wood to enliven these heavily trafficked public spaces.
Jules Verne’s submarine “Nautilus” inspired this steampunk style subway station beneath Paris’ Musee de Arts et Métier. The Arts et Métier metro station. Paris, France.
Paris, France: One of the oldest and most iconic systems, the Paris metro is known to visitors around the world for its Art Nouveau glass and bronze entries and some of the most brilliant station interiors. The Arts et Métier Metro Station (link to blog) delights kids and adults alike and was designed in partnership with the museum of the same name encouraging collaboration between culture and transportation. Conceived by two graphic novelists (a French and a Belgian), the authors of the famous steampunk book series “Cities of the Fantastic,” it is entirely covered with sheets of copper.
A massive mural representing Chilean history: “Memoria Visual de una Nación” (Visual Memory of a Nation) by Mario Toral, enlivens one of Santiago’s busiest subway stations. Universidad de Chile station. Santiago, Chile.
Santiago, Chile: With more than one-third of Chileans living in Santiago, and with close to one-third of all trips there made by public transport, the Metro is inevitably a part of Chile’s cultural identity. This being fully acknowledged by its leadership has resulted in over 30 large-scale art installations in the Metro’s stations, including the enormous murals “Memoria Visual de una Nación” (Visual Memory of a Nation) by Mario Toral representing Chile’s history at the Universidad de Chile station, and the several paintings of Chilean landscapes titled “Chile Hoy” (Chile Today) by Guillermo Muñoz Vera at the La Moneda station. Some of the works of art also reflect the cultural heritage of other nations, including Portuguese azulejos (ceramic) at the Santa Lucía station, and replicas of the Parthenon frieze donated by Athens’s Acropolis Museum at the Grecia station.
Papineau metro includes three lively arched murals that tell the story of the Jean Papineau the local patriot for whom the station is named. Papineau metro station. Montreal, Canada.
Montreal, Canada: In 1968 the first art in Montreal’s metro was revealed: the stained glass Champ-de-Mars station Marcelle Ferron. Another notable station, Namur, features hanging spheres by Granche, Pierre. In addition to its permanent exhibits, Montreal embraces the idea of an art gallery by also including rotating temporary exhibits.
“Dome of Light” uses 4200 glass panels to illuminate Formosa metro station creating a spectacular public space that has become a must see stop in the city. Formosa Boulevard metro station. Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Kaohsiung, Taiwan: One of this city’s most dramatic and beautiful public spaces is in the Formosa Boulevard station. “Dome of Light” by American-Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata, is considered the largest stained-glass installation in the world composed of 4,500 panels. At over 100 feet across, the “Dome” bathes riders in warm colorful light. This station has not only served as a transportation hub but also as a venue for events including several weddings.
Lisbon’s metro planners made bold choices in mixing traditional tile with modern lighting to transform this station’s entry. Olaias metro station. Lisbon, Portugal.
Lisbon, Portugal: Since its inception, the Lisbon metro has put art and design first.The construction of Lisbon’s metro system was a collaboration between Architect Keil do Amaral and the artist Maria Keil who designed the artwork displayed in 19 of the stations. Her use of the Portuguese painted tile azulejo revived the traditional Portuguese craft by introducing new uses for the tiles. The most elaborate examples of this can be seen in the Campo Grande and Oriente station. In the metro’s expansion in 1988, many more artists were brought in to decorate these beautiful public spaces.
Dramatic yet warm lighting by designer Ingo Mauer has increased riders feelings of comfort and safety while on the platform in Munich’s uBahn. Westfriedhof station. Munich, Germany.
Munich, Germany. Constructed for the 1972 Olympic games, engineers enamored with concrete and modernism built Munich’s UBahn system. However, in the mid ‘80s, city leaders began contracting with artists and designers to redesign the UBahn’s stations. By working with famous designers like lighting specialist Ingo Mauer, stations now have distinct identities. Many include warm and inviting lighting and dramatic platform-long installations.
The light shifts from day to night and back in this immersive installation made of iridescent tile in Naples. Toledo metro station. Naples, Italy.
Naples, Italy. A triumph of Italian style and creative vision, the newest stations on the linea 1 are immersive visual mediations of the theme of strata. Each station highlights a unique interpretation of the layers of culture from replicas of classical sculpture at the Museo station to modern pieces that use iridescent tile and lighting to evoke water and light at Toledo station.
90 of the 100 metro stations in Stockholm are filled with exciting art or design. Local designers have been involved since the metro’s construction and it is now known has the “World’s longest gallery”. T-Centralen metro station. Stockholm, Sweden.
Stockholm, Sweden. Over 150 local artists are featured throughout this city’s metro system championing its reputation of being the world’s longest gallery. Virtually every station exhibits immersive art or design, many using enveloping color and light to create a sense of drama. Since the metro’s inception in the late 1940s, Stockholm has included artists and designers in its building process resulting in a system beloved by riders and visitors alike.