42nd Street Subway Station’s Supergraphics

At 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, for example, all trains are stopping on the express track so that workers can finish retiling the walls. The station is scheduled for completion in December. Squire J. Vickers designed the Independent System (IND) in 1925 and, according to architectural historian John Kriskiewicz, its Machine Age aesthetic represented a design departure for Vickers, the “dean of underground architecture.” Says Kriskiewicz: “Similar to the contemporary Nord-Sud U-Bahn Line in Berlin, this Municipal Subway utilizes simple materials and bold graphic color blocks, breaking with the tradition of more complex ornament of the preceding two decades.”

To emphasize “line identity,” the perimeter walls at every station on the IND line include a horizontal colored band, which runs the length of the station. “The band is somewhat sacred,” says Sandra Bloodworth, director of the MTA’s Arts for Transit program. Each station renovation has revived the feature consequently.

At 42nd Street, however, the MTA allowed a deviation from the path. Richard Dattner & Partners Architects with graphic design firm Lebowitz Gould Design superimposed the colored banding with a series of large “42” graphics that, because they’re taller than the banding itself, is meant to recall the tremendous signage of Times Square street life just above. “We did feel that with all of the supergraphics in Times Square, our guidelines could change because of the particular location. What they did with the 42 is something very contemporary and tips its hat to the past, too,” Bloodworth adds.

But to whose past? Dattner’s lead architect on the project, Bill Stein, says that the supergraphics are patterned to provide a “sense of a wave, a sign wave—as if looking down a vista, you would see the signs shifting positions. It was to introduce an element of fun, basically. It looks a little bit fragmentary right now, because the work isn’t done,” he adds. “It will come into better focus when the project is finished.”

Too bad that that will change because, right now, the “42” appears randomly patterned. And because it is never fully in view, it invokes not just the signage of Times Square past and Disney present, but also the newer “old” Times Square of striptease and triple-X days. Let’s enjoy it while the grout’s still wet.

Categories: Cities