The American Institute of Architects announced last week it has selected the WMATA Metro system for a prestigious award given to building projects that have “stood the test of time” when it comes to architectural excellence.
The AIA’s 2014 Twenty-five Year Award will honor the well-known Metro station design of mid-century architect Harry Weese, one the group says “gives monumental civic space to the humble task of pubic transit, gravitas fit for the nation’s capital.”
The Bethesda station has been in the middle of an ongoing debate over how much of that prized architectural heritage should play a part in the so-called “Station of the Future.” Metro promised the pilot station redesign to a task force of Bethesda business leaders last March.
Those leaders want a brighter and cleaner looking station to serve as the “handshake welcome to Bethesda.”
But soon after WMATA unveiled the design, historic preservationists began to cry foul, according to the Washington Post.
The author of a book on Weese told the Post that “every generation has the impulse to make it brighter, but that’s like taking a Victorian storefront and slapping aluminum siding on it.”
The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts will review the final design. In October, Metro installed brighter lights and opened a staircase to take the place of a platform-to-mezzanine escalator that is now being replaced.
Here’s what the AIA had to say:
The striking design of the prototypical Washington Metro station revolutionized public perceptions of mass transit in the mid-to-late 20th century. The station designs have held up remarkably well despite the phenomenal population growth of the Washington region and accelerating pressures on the system.
The stations are airy and spacious, avoiding the claustrophobic qualities of so many older subway facilities in other cities. They are quintessentially modern while maintaining a certain grandeur befitting the nation’s capital. The original stations are now — and have always been — largely free of graffiti and litter, thanks in part to thoughtful planning on the part of the original architects — the designs actively discourage the sort of degradations that plague many other mass transit systems.
The original Metro stations have become icons of Washington architecture, and the entire system — despite recent controversies about safety and management that are unrelated to matters of architectural design — remains a point of pride for Washingtonians.
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Flickr photo via ehpien