The kerfuffle about Metro’s solution to grimy walls at Union Station first garnered headlines two weeks ago, when riders began to notice the as-yet-unfinished paint job. Many argued that the white finish will soon appear even dirtier than the walls’ current state — and that putting a finish on the raw concrete violates the original intentions of the system’s design.
On Wednesday, Wiedefeld countered that moisture and brake dust had left the interior of Union Station looking particularly grimy — and the browning walls reflect poorly on Metro, as Union Station is often the first spot in the system that visitors encounter.
“Over time, what appears is that we’re not maintaining it, and it looks dirty, it makes people feel like the system is not being taken care of,” Wiedefeld said. “I thought it was important that we try to push back against that.”
But there are no plans to paint other stations.
“I think it should be a selective process. I value the iconic nature of the stations,” Wiedefeld said. “But I think we should be looking for a balance.”
Wiedefeld also said he has received praise from people with visual disabilities who say the dark stations make it especially difficult for riders with visual impairments to comfortably use the system.
By adding white paint, Wiedefeld argued, light from the existing fixtures will better be able to bounce off the walls and ceiling and illuminate the platform.
That’s a perspective that’s gotten some pushback from the architectural community. In a letter sent to Wiedefeld two weeks ago, the American Institute of Architects argued that the white paint — besides being a grievous violation of Brutalist tenets — could eventually make the station too bright. Metro is supposed to be installing new LED lights inside stations around the system, which will improve illumination for riders.
And though Wiedefeld said he has been in touch with architectural experts to invite other ideas on how to deal with the grungy aesthetic inside stations, he has already counted out two of the most obvious possibilities.
Sandblasting the walls is not an option, he said, because it would be too disruptive to station infrastructure and operations.
And due to the intensity of the build-up of grime on the walls, he said, power-washing is no longer an effective option — just one more example of the lasting damage due to decades of inadequate maintenance in the system, he said.
“We do clean them,” Wiedefeld said. “But literally after years and years and years of not doing that on a regular basis, it’s too late.”