Metro isn’t known for its consistency. Riders can never be sure whether an escalator will be working, or how long they’ll have to wait for a train, or what the temperature will be inside the train when it arrives. There’s one thing, however, that riders have always been able to count on: Metro brown.
The hue, as iconic as that Helvetica M logo, is what welcomes us on station signs, guides us through fare gates and whooshes beside us every time a train pulls up. It’s also in danger of disappearing as Metro considers a massive makeover: swapping the 1970s aesthetic for a more modern look.
Within a week of announcing the proposed $10 million renovation of the Bethesda station, Metro’s manager of architecture had heard enough complaints about the design that he promised to tone down elements of the sweeping plan. Glass and stainless steel will not be replacing concrete and bronze.
But, according to a Capital Business article on the matter earlier this week, brown is likely still a goner. And riders I’ve talked to say that would be just fine with them.
“If you’re looking for [a Metro station] when you’re lost, you want a bright color so your eyes can find it,” Lynette from Virginia told me. “Now, you look around, and where is it?” She’d prefer “anything but brown.”
Richard Berry, 54, agreed: “Brown’s kind of dark, and I’ve got a vision impairment. So something brighter would help me out.”
A few folks said color is the last thing on their minds when they ride Metro. (“There are plenty of other things to worry about,” said 28-year-old Jessica from Pentagon City.) But no one really seemed to stick up for the historic color choice.
For an instant, I thought I’d found the one guy who really adores the brown when Jonathan Williams said, “It makes your day.” But then the 24-year-old took a breath and finished his thought: “It makes your day a little more dreary.” (He blames the brown for putting him to sleep every time he rides the system.)
“We need red, white and blue — something to wake you up,” added Williams, who wasn’t the only person to suggest a flag-inspired color palette. (Patrick Britton, 21, would also like to add stars.)
The closest I found to a brown promoter was 68-year-old Joe Weidlick. “It’s OK,” he said. “It’s not my favorite color.”
Brown is no one’s favorite color. But the drab tone has made sense at Metro. It recedes into the background, allowing the rainbow of lines to stand out. It masks dirt. And although some would call it “dated,” I find it charmingly retro.
It’s hard to imagine Metro any other way.