The Main Hall at Washington Union Station is undergoing a redesign that will eliminate the Center Cafe, punch holes in the floor for escalators to the lower level food court, and change the room’s furniture layout.
The comment period for the redesign proposal
ends tomorrow , so now is the time for anyone interested to take a look and send in comments. Update: the comment period has been extended to November 15.
The gold-trimmed Main Hall is a fantastic and beautiful civic space, recent scaffolding aside. It’s one of the best Beaux Arts rooms in America, and is lively with visitors through long hours of the day and night. It’s a space that is working very well already, so any changes need to be carefully considered.
The hall was temporarily ruined by a poorly-conceived redesign in the 1970s. If project architects get too carried away with changes, the same could happen again.
The good news is that the redesign being proposed now is relatively restrained. That wasn’t always the case. The first proposal back in 2010 would have overwhelmed the historic character of the Main Hall with a clashing metal and glass structure in the center of the room. Two years later, the new proposal is a lot better. It makes less significant changes, and leaves the aesthetic focus of the hall where it belongs, on the world-class Beaux Arts features.
The proposed escalators down to the food court are a little troubling, because punching holes in the floor of such a grand space sounds very similar to the 1970s mistake. On the other hand, without the Center Cafe in that space the Main Hall may seem too large, maybe even a little barren. There needs to be something in about that location that breaks up the floor mass. Both the raised cafe and holes for escalators would be too much, but one or the other is just about right.
The escalators will also improve circulation in the station, and add a new reason for visitors to go through the Main Hall.
The 2010 escalator proposal was garish and inappropriate, but this new redesign is subdued enough that the benefits it brings are worth the trade-offs.
Except for the signs. The signs are awful.
The escalator proposal also includes a pair of vertical signs, sticking out from the holes in the Main Hall floor and up in to the middle of the room. This is actually a great idea, because a vertical element fills the huge room volume a bit, and something near the center of the hall adds a focal point. Unfortunately, the design of the signs themselves is all wrong.
Take a look:
Talk about clashing!
LED signs that look like they came straight from a suburban strip mall aren’t right for one of the most famous Beaux Arts rooms in America. A vertical element that incorporates signs would be good there, but the design needs to be improved.
A better option would be to go with something dignified and ornate, that stands out but also works with the room’s historic character. Something like an iron street lamp with a banner attached would look great, and be far more appropriate for the context.
For more details on the proposed redesign, visit the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation. If you want to comment you can use the form on that site, but be sure to get your thoughts in by
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.