SUBWAY STYLE: 100 Years of Architecture & Design in the New York City Subway

Andrew Garn, Author, The New York City Transit Museum, Author, Andrew Garn, Photographer , photography by Andrew Garn, intro. by Joseph Giovannini. Stewart, Tabori, & Chang $40 (252p) ISBN 978-1-58479-349-6

This fascinating, smartly executed volume should intrigue and entertain anyone with affection for New York City's "amazingly complex, largely uncelebrated environment," in the words of critic Giovannini. Given a legacy of three separate systems built during different decades and untidily unified in 1940, the 100-year-old subway's multitudinous elements today uneasily harmonize in "systematic uniqueness." Thematic chapters cover ceramic designs, fare collections, signage, advertising and more. Squire Vickers, an architect who served as chief architect of the system from 1906 to 1942, wanted to celebrate the subway's industrial character, yet at the same time used colored tiles to add cheer. A marvelous chapter traces the evolution of subway maps, including the 1972 example of minimalism that turned subway lines into 45- and 90-degree angles. Another surveys subway cars through the years, including rattan upholstery and the beginning of hard fiberglass polyester seats. There's much delight in the old: metal grillwork from the 1930s, the three-dimensional ceramic at Brooklyn's Borough Hall station. There are also stirring signs of the new: freshly commissioned tile mosaics in Chinatown; a restored 1904 station house at 72nd Street and its respectful but better-fed newly built cousin across Verdi Square; funky cast-bronze sculptures at 14th Street. The subway's grittier side is treated somewhat glancingly; a picture from 1970 shows the clutter that led to the ban on vending machines; the new turnstile's design is described as a deterrent to fare-beaters. But this book reminds us that the achievement of the subway, even today, is to function under pressure, above ground and below, with unexpected elements of artistry and grace. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 09/27/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Discover what to read next