The proposed changes, which would be most noticeable in some of the system’s underground stations, mark a striking departure for Metro. And just as the system’s original design was the subject of great debate, the transit agency’s announcement is already eliciting pointed critiques from some quarters.
The bustling Bethesda station will be the prototype for the redesigned look, and Metro said it will cost about $10 million to roll out the features there by mid-2015.
“This embodies all the elements that our customers have been clamoring for,” Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said of the new look. “We are preserving the great arched spaces that make Metro unique while updating certain elements from the outdated ’70s brown look that was common at the time in favor of an updated, 21st-century look.”
Carrying out the modernization effort across much or all of Metro’s 86-station system could cost tens of millions of dollars, said Dan Stessel, a Metro spokesman. He said that after completing the Bethesda prototype, the transit agency will decide how to move forward.
Already, the agency is in the throes of an expensive and disruptive effort to reconstruct its long-neglected rail infrastructure, and this year, Metro outlined a multibillion-dollar plan to expand the system over the next few decades.
The announcement is sure to stir some of the transit agency’s critics, who are likely to say the rail system’s performance, not its aesthetics, should be the focus. But historic preservationists and transit historians have their own critiques, saying the new design will compromise the distinctive design that emerged from years of debate over what a subway system for the nation’s capital should look like.
Metro’s designers used concrete, granite and bronze in designing the stations because the materials evoked the grandeur of the capital city’s monuments and gave Metro an appearance that was unique among the nation’s subway systems.
“Every generation has the impulse to make it brighter, but that’s like taking a Victorian storefront and slapping aluminum siding on it,” said Robert Bruegmann, the author of a book on Metro’s principal architect, Harry Weese.
Like any major project in the nation’s capital, a change to the stations will probably create a debate. Just changing the names at a handful of Metro stations took several months and involved the transit agency’s board members, community groups, universities, hospitals and others.
Thomas Luebke, secretary for the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, said his agency would expect the changes to stations to be presented to the commission, which was heavily involved in Metro’s original planning and design.