From the beginning, when they called him on a Colorado ski slope and asked him to bid on the job, Harry Weese knew it had to be "a monumental design for a monumental city."

Nothing tinny, nothing tinsely. Nothing that looked like it was heading for a wedding cake and got lost. "We wanted that cathedral-like quality," said Weese. "We wanted it to be dignified and serious. We wanted people to be respectful of their surroundings and of each other."

When Washington's Metro becomes a 24-stop, 17-mile system July 1, rather than the lunch-hour toy it has been, Harry Mohr Weese's conceptual designs will become a daily presence for thousands of Washingtonians.

Although each station in the system was actually committed to blueprints by a different architect, Weese is the architect who made all the basic design decisions for Metro.

Weese is why the ceilings are waffles. Weese is why the stations are vaulted. Weese is who proposed the basic car design, the basic entrance-way design, even the capital-M-on-a-pylon that seems destined to be a Washington landmark.

Sixteen years after he first become involved, 11 years after his concept was approved, Weese said he would do 90 per cent of it the same way.

"It had to be a system; this was the Nation's Capital, after all," said Weese, interviewed in the five-story slum warehouse here that he has redesigned into his headquarters.

"We felt the necessities of each station would produce the variety. You don't try to make them different for different's sake. We think it's very appropriate for Washington. After all," said Weese, with a smile, "planners always want their dreams to be fulfilled, even if they're wrong."

To Weese, the sweeping, swooping, floating lines of Metro's plazas, stations and mezzanines are the system's best feature. Once they were chosen, he said, the long, long escalators and the indirect, somewhat dim lighting in stations fell into step as a result.

Taken as a whole, his design "reflects the state of the art. It's the best features of many other systems all taken together. We didn't try to reinvent the wheel," said Weese.

But Weese feels it could have been done differently in Washington, perhaps better, certainly more cheaply. A large part of the trouble, Weese feels, is that the basic engineering studies were done long before he got into the act. He points a mild finger at "the engineers, bless their hearts."

It was they, said Weese, who decreed that there could not be stations on a curve. "That's one reason why there's no good solution at the airport, a very regrettable thing," Weese said.

It was engineers, according to Weese, who vetoed tapered station platforms and exposed rock walls in stations. They also insisted on 85-foot cars, among the longest in the world, Weese said. "If there was any semblance of a doubt, they would say it (a Weese notion) was unsafe," Weese said.

"I don't want to single out any culprits," Weese said. "Engineers have expertise that is incontrovertible. I'm sad about it, but it's only a quibble. Still, engineering before planning is the root of a lot of our expensive public works projects."

If he had a second chance, Weese said he would recommend "back-lit" signs in Metro's stations, rather than the painted pylons that were chosen. "They'd look like candles in a cathedral," Weese said.

He would also have urged reading spotlights in Metro cars similar to those in airplanes, and would have dimmed aisle lights in cars "so the transition into the station would not be so sharp."

Weese would also have shortened some stations by as much as 750 feet, allowing only two cars at a time to load and unload. That would have saved huge amounts of money, Weese said, "but when the plans were approved, it was to be an Imperial Subway. We were winning the war in Vietnam, remember? We could have guns and butter."

Weese, 61, admits to a special soft spot for the existing Judiciary Square station. "The way it opens right onto the Pension Building . . . just like Europe," he said. On the new line, he lists the Smithsonian and Capitol South stations as co-favorites for similar reasons.

But the Rosslyn station is Weese's pet among pets.

It is a doubledecked plaza, with one of the system's longest escalators dipping deep into solid rock right at the center. The station mouth sits amid Rosslyn's maze of office buildings and motels. It promises to be one of the busiest stations along the new line, and may, according to Weese, be the prettiest.

The Rosslyn station is also one of several along the new line that is nestled close by existing buildings, does not draw excessive attention to itself and consumes a minimum of space.

All three characteristics are classic Weese.

He is the architect who once advocated going "to the streets with barricades" to prevent the destruction of a historic building in the Loop here.

He is the impetus behind a proposed $200 million stadium complex that would float in Lake Michigan - near downtown, not near a suburb.He once said that there was no such thing as a good reason to tear down a single downtown Chicago building.

Now, Weese's Metro will link one side of Washington to the other for the first, fast, public, underground time. Weese is excited at the prospect.

"It's an expensive system," he said, "partly because it was programmed to be as good or impressive as anything in the world. But it was really a great system to do. There'll never be anything like Washington again."