Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Subway Atmosphere

It is argued that crime is the inescapable outcome of disorder. Many people will have, perhaps unknowingly, experienced the “Broken Windows” theory. The “Broken Windows” theory was the discovery of the criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. It is thought that if a window is broken and not repaired, people passing by will decide that no one cares and that no one is managing the area. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the feeling of chaos and mayhem grows. Especially in a city, comparatively small problems like graffiti or public disorder are the equivalent of broken windows, a temptation to more serious crime. Criminals such as muggers or robbers, whether opportunistic or professional, believe they lower their chances of being caught or identified if they operate on streets where prospective victims are already intimidated by existing surroundings and circumstances. Nowhere have these conditions been in such abundance as a cities underground, metro, or subway. The atmosphere created in such a confined and isolated space dictates a passengers feeling of safety and in turn, their likelihood of being a returning customer. To enable a more in depth look at metro station atmosphere I began by looking at the art and architecture of the most famous metro stations of the world.

The aim of "Metro the story of the underground railway” by David Bennett was to go further than merely regurgitating the story of the metro in the form of a history lesson about the building of tunnels and the early underground railways. Rather, it supplies an insight into underground travel throughout the world, from the early coal-burning locomotives to the electrification of the line, exploring the changing trends in metro station design and the introduction of art and sculpture to make the daily underground journey a little more pleasurable. It also takes an interesting look at poster and graffiti art, the transformation of the subway map, and escalator design.

Bennett declared that metro station design initially revolved around the exterior appearance of the building. In the case of Berlin’s U-Bahn, the designers were unsure whether it was sociabl

y acceptable to build an “underground” railway of which the majority would be visible above ground, at high level. The designers won the nonbelievers over as they realised that these great constructions could have much to offer in terms of artistic merit. A cities metro station became a bit of a status symbol. The Moscow City Council statement declared that, “The construction of the metro inaugurates a new and higher phase of Soviet architecture,...” (p68) The Russians took the design of their metro a little further. They are said to have looked at the metros of New York and London and concluded that they were dirty, run down and dull. The aim of the Russians was to, “make a passenger’s journey on the underground not only as comfortable but also as enjoyable as possible.” (p68) It was decided that all underground structures in Moscow should not remind people of being under ground deprived of daylight. The stations should be light filled, should feel spacious, and should be bright and happy places.

Bennett stated that; learning from the german and russian design movements, London, when building the Piccadily line extension, seemed to be more thoughtful to the needs of it’s passengers and less involved with looking impressive to the rest of the world. Functionalism rejected unnecessary decoration of a building, it was believed that good architecture came entirely from the proportion, scale and arrangement of a building.

Developing his logical “tour-guide” style a little, Bennett moved on to discuss station interiors. Beginning with the London underground he talks in depth about materials such as, architect Charles Holden’s choice of brick for both the interior and exterior of the station as it would project warmth. Large windows were inserted over the entrances to introduce good natural daylight into the building and up-lighters were used to bathe the ceilings and walls in warm light without glare.

Bennett’s love and fascination with anything and everything metro related is clear in this book. It is clear, concise and full of interesting information regarding almost every possible aspect of metro design. It is, however, a little cold and factual. His aim is to be as informative as possible but perhaps his love of all things metro glazes over the fact that many metros are hugely flawed. There is no mention of the crime or congestion experienced on most metros, in fact, a whole section talks of graffiti in only a positive way. Bennett’s passion for metros is infectious and leaves you desperate to travel on all the metros he

mentions, however, would they really be so perfect at 8am on a week day? I am not so sure.

Environmental psychologist, Karen A. Franck and practicing architect (with many years experience in designing houses and maternity health care facilities) R. Bianca Lepori joined together to produce “Architecture from the Inside Out”. The book introduces a new foundation for design, which goes beyond the established ideas of style. The book leans more towards feeling, moving and the experiences drawn from observation. A more sensory approach to architecture design is favoured here. The authors put a feminine slant on architecture design, believing that it should be more alive and take its character from the human body. They feel that rather than being cold, unemotional and without sensibilities, buildings should offer spatial sensations that connect with people.

Hans Makart 'The Five Senses' 1879

Chapter 3, ‘Animism of Architecture’ by R. Bianca Lepori, discusses how architecture can be given life and spirit by all the qualities that come into contact with our senses and the human soul: by light and colour, sound and texture, or by the expansion and reduction of space. Lepori asks,

“In designing for the living, why not consider, along with the body that moves, the body that feels, and the body that dreams?” (p75)

Lepori and Franck aim to display how architects can work with clients to uncover both the existing and preferred ways that people inhabit and experience their space. This book gives a glimpse of what the world would be like if women took over more of this responsibility. Rather than thinking of architecture as egotistical, showy and only involving form and facade, Franck and Lepori believe it should be more alive and take its character from the human body, which is a moving, animated structure. When similarly, designed from the inside out, buildings could offer a spatial sensation that could connect with people, such as a certain quality of light or a comforting atmosphere. They celebrate what the design of places and objects often neglects: the needs, activities and emotions of people and the possibility of transforming our ways of living and thinking. With the constant creation of solely profitable products, there now tends to be little care or time for this process. The authors describe a totally alternative approach design. Design is seen not as a project, imposing preconceived ideas upon a situation, but as a process, evolving from the inside out.

The grid systems of most cities and towns have a deadening effect on a person. We are extremely sensitive to the qualities around us, not only visual but of the other senses as well. Radiant heat may be more comforting than forced air heating. The colors used for decorating can have a profound effect on our moods and activities. The quality of light is equally important. Our natural response to a place is very important and is something which can not be forced. Feelings should be stimulated by a place, true architecture should be life-enhancing.

Lepori and Franck’s some-what feminine view point is fascinating and thought provoking. To think that a building can have such an emotional effect on a person seems initially absurd but on closer thought even the effect walking into a cathedral can have on an atheist is striking.

Women tend to be driven by comfort in their surroundings while men tend to be more logical. These two differing views are well demonstrated in these books. Lepori outlines a new way of thinking about interior and architecture design which involves all of the body’s senses, creating stimulating places to spend time. Bennett briefly mentions the beginnings of these ideas being taken seriously in metro design, bringing as much daylight into the space, using warming materials and glare reducing lighting. This makes you wonder what it would be like if the male dominated area of architecture and in this case metro design, got in touch with its feminine side a little more? In order to move forward with this feminist theory I believe the best way to find out what sort of atmosphere people feel most comfortable in is by asking....people! This survey would have to be in conjunction with a particular metro to assure that the need of the station are also met. A metro station, in the end, wants to move people from A to B in the shortest possible time - they don’t want people to enjoy the atmosphere too much.

Reading these books has made me far more aware of my everyday surroundings and how they make me feel - am I comfortable? Do I feel out of place? I am also far more aware of the power interior design can have over sometimes large numbers of people. Something as simple as the colour of a wall can repel a group of people at speed. This, some might say feminine, look at human behaviour becomes a sort of intriguing science which would prove helpful to metro design and the fight against crime and congestion. A criminal is far less likely to feel comfortable going about his business in an environment where commuters are comfortable and at ease in a warm, bright and friendly area. The metro would no-longer be a dark and dingy underground world where criminals could lurk. Also the metro could have more control over the commuters. By guiding commuters through the underground system using varying colours, textures and lights they would have authority over the flow and movement of people. A safer, more effective metro is a more productive metro.

Bennet, D, (2004), Metro the story of the underground railway, London, Octopus Publishing

Gladwell, M, (2000), The Tipping Point, Great Britain, Abacus


Lepori, R, and Franck, K, (2007), Architecture from the Inside Out, Great Britain, Wiley-Academy

Preston, J, (2004), Interior Atmosphere, London, Artmedia Press