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Friday Fun: Art in metro stations is about more than just good looks

A successful transport system connects people with their city not only physically, but also culturally. While public transport can sometimes be perceived as anonymous and impersonal, metro stations that engage culturally with the communities they serve are much more likely to be seen as meaningful public spaces. Embracing art as an important part of station design enhances a community’s sense of identity and strengthens the social and cultural fabric of our cities.

People feel safe and comfortable in stations that are well-lit and visually vibrant. Some researchers have even found that a station’s aesthetic character has a direct influence on riders’ decisions about how they use mass transit. Given that car ownership has come to symbolize prosperity and achievement in many emerging economies, public art can be a means of improving the public transport experience, attracting riders, and combating mounting car culture.

There are numerous examples worldwide of beautiful, engaging metro stations. Here, TheCityFix has compiled a few of our favorites.

Santiago, Chile

Universidad de Chile metro station mural

Mario Toral’s “Visual Memory of a Nation” depicts scenes from Chilean history on six massive panels in the Universidad de Chile metro station. Photo by Inti/Flickr.

Many of Santiago’s metro stations display commissioned murals and sculptures that not only brighten the transit experience, but are also culturally relevant to riders. The Universidad de Chile station, for example, features a 1,200 square meter mural by Chilean painter Mario Toral that presents a visual narrative of Chile’s tumultuous history. In the painting, Toral traces the development of Chile from its pre-Colombian indigenous roots to the present, without shying away from addressing the human rights violations in the country’s more recent past.

The Universidad de Chile metro station serves acts as a place of collective memory, one that thousands of residents can see and reflect on every day during their morning commute.

Moscow, Russia

Komsomolskaya metro station in Moscow

The Komsomolskaya metro station in Moscow was one of the first to open, and its mosaic panels represent the struggle for independence and freedom throughout Russian history. Photo by Jason Rogers/Flickr.

Currently one of the busiest transport systems in the world, Moscow’s metro is 80 years old this year and has grown from a single 11-kilometer line into an expansive network spanning over 300 kilometers. Stalin initially began developing the city’s stations as “palaces for the people,” full of marble walls, bright chandeliers, bronze statues, and stained-glass windows. Many of the paintings and inscriptions chronicle Russia’s revolutionary history, with images of workers, farmers, students, and soldiers.

Although Moscow is a very different place than it was in 1935, these extravagant metro stations have largely been preserved in their original form and allow riders to glimpse back into their country’s history.

Singapore, Singapore

Esplanade MRT station in Singapore

Titled “Let the show begin”, this collage by Lim Mu Hue was commissioned for the Esplanade MRT station in Singapore. Photo by Jnzl’s Public Domain Photos/Flickr.

The Esplanade MRT station is home to seven wooden block prints by the local artist Lim Mu Hue of Singapore. Depicting the cultural life of early settlers to Singapore, the installation is sponsored by the Land Transport Authority’s Art in Transit. The LTA’s programs support established artists as well as younger generations by commissioning collections of work that engage Singapore’s history and culture, featuring them in metro stations around the city.

 Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Tashkent Uzbekistan metro station

Tashkent’s metro was built in 1977 and is one of only two in Central Asia. Photo by Peretz Partensky/Flickr.

One of only two metro systems in Central Asia is located in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital city. Like many of the metro systems built by in former Soviet Union, the Tashkent system is a visual reminder of the region’s history. Though it resembles the Moscow stations with their ornate chandeliers and pillars, Tashkent’s stations were actually designed by prominent architects and artists from Uzbekistan who incorporated local Islamic influences into their work.

Does beautiful or provocative art line the walls of your transport station? Let us know in the comments!

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