Award recognizes an architectural design that has stood the test of time for 25 years
For immediate release:
Washington, D.C. – January 13, 2014 – The Washington, D.C. Metro rail transit system has been selected to receive the 2014 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Twenty-Five Year Award. Designed by Harry Weese, FAIA, in the 1960’s, the Washington, D.C. Metro is being recognized as an architectural design of enduring significance. The Twenty-five Year Award is conferred on a structure that has stood the test of time by embodying architectural excellence for 25 to 35 years. Projects must demonstrate excellence in function, in the distinguished execution of its original program, and in the creative aspects of its statement by today’s standards. The award will be presented this June at the AIA National Convention in Chicago, the home of its architect, Harry Weese, who died in 1998.
Each day, nearly a million people experience Weese’s architecture in the Metro, either in stations he designed or ones derived from his common design kit-of-parts. This makes the Washington, D.C. Metro, which opened in 1976, second only to New York City’s subway in daily ridership.
You can learn more about the Washington, D.C. Metro being selected as the Twenty-Five Year Award recipient and see images here.
Before Metro there had never been an American mass transit system designed and conceived as such a unified whole. Station-to-station, line-to-line, its unity and coherence is immutable. Across 86 stations (underground, at-grade, and elevated) spread over five lines that cover 106 miles, the design identity of each station shines through. If one’s commute begins at a ground-level suburban fringe station next to a parking lot and ends at a hub of crisscrossing train tracks deep below downtown D.C., the common design elements and shared materials make each space navigable and understandable. Colossal concrete vaults, granite and bronze are put together in an unmistakably monumental, Mid-Century Modern manner. These design elements, created by Weese over 40 years ago, still define Metro, as its newest stations on the Silver Line march further into the Virginia suburbs, set to open later this year.
From 1960 to 1970, the population of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region exploded, adding nearly a million people, even as the population of the District of Columbia shrank. Metro would better connect the city and suburbs, and make urban living more convenient and vibrant. Implicitly, there was the hope that investing in Metro would save the suffering mid-century city as a typology, giving the nation a successful case study of how transit can help turn around urbanism in decline.
There are no great cities without great public transit, and this is something Weese and his team understood well. “The Metro changed Washington, D.C., from a sleepy Southern town into a world-class capital city,” said Jack Hartray, FAIA, who worked for Weese on Metro.
From the outset, Weese and Metro knew exactly what they did not want: the New York City subway. Metro was defined totally in opposition to the most successful urban rail transit system in North America. Instead, Metro would be airy, spacious, and ennobling. It would accomplish this through size and scale. As Harry Weese explained in The Great Society Subway, “Our whole thrust is to maximize the volume.” It would use the formal language of monumental civic architecture, seen so often in Washington’s federal buildings, and watch it seep into the earth, below ground, for the yeoman’s task of public transit.
Metro stations combine Modernist forms with subtly classical elements in order to create an experience that speaks to the contemporary power and complexity of the federal government, along with bedrock democratic design traditions. The massive rectangular coffers in the vaulted ceilings provide a place for sound-dampening panels, and lighten the load of the vault without lessening its strength, but most importantly, their exacting repetition from station to station speaks to a particular High Modernist omnipresence and technocratic efficiency—an ideal for the federal government, if not always a reality. However, these rectangular tessellations also make warmer references to the coffers seen in Daniel Burnham’s Union Station and the United States Capitol dome, Neoclassical buildings that point to Greek and Roman architecture as precedents to contemporary American democracy.
Washington’s recent ascendance, beyond being the national political capital, into an emerging cultural and artistic creative class destination probably couldn’t have happened without Metro. It’s radically reshaped D.C., enabling the redevelopment of long-suffering neighborhoods into magnets for the young, highly educated and affluent knowledge economy workers that drive its booming economy.
About The American Institute of Architects
Founded in 1857, members of the American Institute of Architects consistently work to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities. Through nearly 300 state and local chapters, the AIA advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public well being. Members adhere to a code of ethics and conduct to ensure the highest professional standards. The AIA provides members with tools and resources to assist them in their careers and business as well as engaging civic and government leaders, and the public to find solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation and world. Visit www.aia.org.