A city’s subway system is its arteries. Despite the fact that people are only passing through each of its stations, their perception of and behavior in the subway can dictate the social atmosphere in the city.

This may sound like an absurd claim, after all most people only probably spend twenty minutes to an hour commuting from one station to the other. However, according to a book by Malcolm Gladwell, New York City’s conversion from its gritty crime days  to its present urban renewal started in its subways.

The New York City Transit Authority started cleaning up the graffiti in their trains and cracked down on people who jumped the turnstiles. People started perceiving their surroundings a little better and incidentally, the petty criminals who carried guns and knives were also fare-beaters. The combined effect of these two measures helped improved New York’s peace and order.

Since the subways have this much effect on the cities they serve, it is only obvious that governments would start investing in improving the experience of using the service. Here are the best subway systems in the world.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Dubai Metro Stations

The architects of the Dubai Metro stations took great pains in ensuring that the terminals were shaped by their traditional architecture and layered over with modern futuristic designs. The structures are patterned after the clam shell in loving tribute to the United Arab Emirate’s past as a society of pearl divers and traders. Going inside the stations, passengers are treated to the various elements of air, water, fire and earth. Other stations also inculcate the values of old Arabian architecture incorporating arches, oriels, minarets and alleys.

Munich, Germany – U-Bahn

The Munich U-Bahn is a train engineer and an architect’s masterpiece. The system itself consists of 56.6 miles worth of active tracks and 93 train stations. The U-Bahn system has its sisters in the S-Bahn which is a network of suburban trains; the Tram-Bahn which is the system of trams, buses and cars. Munich’s U-Bahn became active in 1980 with eight lines servicing commuters. Interior designers created minimalistic environments with an art-deco bent in the early stations but began improvising as newer and newer destinations have been opened.

Stockholm, Sweden – Tunnelbana

The subway system is part and parcel of modern day city life. Because of these ties with the modern world, the architecture of the stations are always modernistic. The designers want to reduce the impression that the tunnels the trains are running through are under the ground. The Stockholm Tunnelbana system offers a different experience. Traveling through the stations in Sweden has its stone age appeal as most of these waypoints appear to be carved out of solid bedrock. A stroll into these stations feel like spelunking. Aside from the much of the art that the administrators, Storstockholms Lokaltrafik, have invested in, there are also paintings done in the style of cave paintings to add to the primitive yet modern appeal.

Moscow, Russia – Komsomolskaya Station

Moscow’s underground transport first opened its doors to the public in 1935. The facade of the stations imbibe a feeling of grandiosity and match the beauty the interiors of the loading platforms themselves. Stations that go further underground double were intended to work as the bomb shelters in the time of war. Since the subway system is a relic of Russia’s Soviet past, each station were envisioned to be the palaces of the masses. No expense has been spared in making sure that vision is felt by the people. The walls are made of marble and chandeliers hang overhead. These stations carry the look of churches and palaces. Art is also everywhere in the stations. Passengers enjoy the various murals, sculptures and reliefs that enhance the architecture.

Shanghai, China – Bund Sightseeing Tunnel

The president of the Shanghai World Expo formally declared that the Shanghai Metro will become the biggest gallery in motion in the world. Various lights and LCD projectors line up the tunnels, providing a light show to the passengers. The stations themselves will display the talents of local artists. Calligraphers, for example, have been tasked to write script for the names of the stations. Stations also host the known art forms and specialties of the district they serve. The Huaihai Road, for example is Shanghai’s fashion district and its station features textile pieces and cloths.

New York, United States – New York City Hall Station

City Hall station was the ribbon that opened the New York’s subway station project. The mayor led a ceremony which set off the construction of the system. The crews began their work officially on March 24, 1900 and the station itself was completed around 1945. City Hall station featured skylights and a ceiling covered by Guastavino tiles. However the station itself never got into heavy use as the platform was dangerous in some areas and there was considerable noise pollution coming from the trains that used its turning loop. Only 600 passenger transits were recorded on a daily basis and even for that era, it was a very low passenger volume. No passenger has ever used City Hall Station to commute after it closed in 1945.

Chicago, United States – O’Hare Station

The firm of Murphy/Jahn finished work on the train station at O’Hare by 1984. The O’Hare Station was supposed to go far beyond the airport. However the firm had to scuttle its plans after the mayor imposed a short deadline so that the trains will be serving the people of Chicago come election time. Now, the station ends at the airport. Arriving and departing passenger use the station as a mean to access the airport. Passengers gain pleasure from viewing the blocks of glass serving as sidewalls to the station. Under the glass, there are backlights that provide color to the walls. Aside from decoration, designers countoured the glass walls in such a way that it absorbs noise. The escalators and the stairs appear like a plane’s fuselage, easing the passengers mentally into the airport’s environment.

Frankfurt, Germany – Bockenheimer Warte Station

The surrealist painter René Magritte would be proud of this train station. Margritte loved painting pictures that seemed to pop out and interact with the reader. One such painting called Time Transfixed features a train coming out of a fireplace. The architect of the station, Zbiginiew Peter Pininski drew inspiration from artists like Magritte to make art out of a station entrance. Passengers are surprised to see that they are entering a train magically sinking into the ground. This piece helps passengers prepare for the wonderful surprises that may come during their workday.

Basque Country, Spain – Metro Bilbao

Celebrated British architect Sir Norman Robert Foster crafted the metro stations that dot the Spanish Basque County. Since the locals are so taken with the designs, they called the stations fosteritos or little Fosters. Each station has a conch shaped glass roof meant to maximize daylight and air flow. Sir Foster waxes philosophical regarding his design of Metro Bilbao. He mentions that subway tunnels are mark of man’s relationship and struggle with nature. The shape and size of the station is in due consideration of the conditions of the earth and the resulting architecture is man’s negotiation with the ground. The architect therefore designed the tunnels and the stations to make the passengers see the hand of man while at the same time respect the geological domain of nature.

Pyongyang, North Korea – Pyongyang Metro

The North Koreans built the Pyongyang Metro as a way to interlink several of their secret military bases around the capital. Despite this cloak and dagger function, the metro still serves the populace as a means of transport. There are speculations that the metro houses rails which only the highest level of the North Korean military and government personnel have access to. All of these remain as rumors though as no one has confirmed them. The designs of the metro are one of the most beautiful in the world. However due to North Korea’s secretive nature there are no tourists to report about the marvels of the stations there.



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