We first published this post on October 6, 2014. We're running it again because it's still interesting!
Metro is well known for its distinctive vaulted station ceilings, but not all stations are the same. There are 11 different basic architectural station designs in the Metro system. Let’s see where they are. (Note: For the purposes of this discussion, I’m using some of the station type names from the Washington page of NYCSubway.org. In other cases, I’m using my own terms.)
First, the underground stations:
By far the most common station type is the “waffle” style vault envisioned by the CFA and Harry Weese. This station type is present at 32 stations, including most of the downtown stops. These vaults are characterized by the smaller rectangular coffers that line the walls, making them look somewhat like a waffle wrapped around the train room.
Most of these stations were constructed using the pour-in-place method, though Dupont Circle was constructed using precast panels.
The waffle design first appeared when the system opened in 1976. The final two waffle stations, Waterfront and Navy Yard, opened in 1991 when the Green Line started running.
Following the waffle designs, Metro started using a different design with precast sections to save money. These stations, which NYCSubway.org and I call “Arch I,” are somewhat similar to the waffle design, but instead of featuring several rows of narrow rectangular coffers, this design places just two coffers on each half of the vault.
These stations only appear on the Red Line’s western end. They first appeared in 1981 with the extension from Dupont Circle to Van Ness. The final time was three years later with the extension to Grosvenor.
Similar to the Arch I stations along the Red Line, the “Arch II” stations were built using the precast method. These stations have three coffers on each half of the vault rather than just two.
There are only a few of these stations, mostly in the newest subway stations in the system. Strangely, Mount Vernon Square, which opened in 1991, has an Arch II design, despite opening at the same time as other waffle stations at Shaw and U Street.
The final type of underground station is the twin tube design. This style is used at the super-deep Wheaton and Forest Glen stations, which were bored out of seperate tubes. Instead of one broad vault for a platform and both tracks, each track has its own smaller chamber, connected by a corridor near the center.
The lower level of Fort Totten has a somewhat modified version of the twin tube style, even though it’s not very deep. In fact, half the platform is open to the elements.
The stations at Wheaton and Forest Glen opened in 1990. The lower level of Fort Totten opened in 1993.
In addition to the four underground station styles, there are seven aboveground station types. They fall into three categories: gull wing, peaked, and gambrel. The curving gull canopy types contrast with the more angular peaked styles. The gambrel canopies are more evocative of the underground vaults than the aboveground canopies.
The original aboveground station type is the “Gull I” design. The roof looks like a seagull in flight. The canopy is exposed concrete like the underground stations, and the curve of the arch is reminiscent of the underground vaults.
This station type has been around since day one of Metro in 1976. This roof type was most common in the aboveground stations that opened in the late 1970s.
This type most recently appeared in 1993, when the lower level of Fort Totten opened. The canopy on the lower level matches the one on the upper level (opened in 1978), but it was not constructed until the Green Line was built. The last completely new station with this canopy type was Van Dorn Street, which opened in 1991.
After Metro completed the 1968 Adopted Regional System with the extension to Branch Avenue in 2001, the agency decided to make a break with the brutalist style of the older stations. Three stations opened in 2004, all beyond the original 1968 vision for Metro.
There are notable differences in color, materials, and motif elements. But the design is similar enough to Gull I to look like a modernized version. So I refer to this type as “Gull II.”
The other big change in direction is that these stations don’t include the Vignelli-designed platform pylons that are Metro icons.
Two of the stations that opened in 1983 included a different canopy, largely because the city of Alexandria was worried the gull style would clash with the architecture of Old Town. These “Alexandria Peak” stations appear at Braddock Road and King Street.
The Alexandria peak stations have a simple triangular roof with a transparent pointed skylight running the length of the platform. The canopy at King Street is broken so that it does not interrupt the viewshed of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.
This style first appeared in 1980, when Addison Road opened. These stations feature a flat concrete roof that tapers toward the tracks and a glass peaked skylight running along the platform. The style is very different from the Gull I style, but the materials are similar. This style was fairly common in aboveground stations that opened in the 1980s and 1990s.
These stations are similar in style to the General Peak stations, and in fact, I haven’t always counted them in separate categories. But what I’m calling the High Peak stations are quite different, especially in scale, with a canopy that towers above the platform.
While the General Peak stations have a roof not much higher than the top of trains, the High Peak stations have a roof that is higher than the mezzanine and never drops to a lower level. It makes for a dramatic space above the platform, though it offers less protection from the elements.
This canopy type became more common in the final few stations of the Adopted Regional System. It’s only present at Franconia-Springfield and three of the stations that opened in 2001 with the extension to Branch Avenue.
The Silver Line stations also offer a break from earlier designs, as the 2004 stations did. These canopies are lighter and feel more modern than the brutalist Gull I, General Peak, and High Peak stations.
These canopies are similar to the General Peak type, with tapering toward the tracks and a transparent peak along the platform. But the materials harken back a little to the Alexandria Peak stops.
The Gambrel style also appeared with the Silver Line’s opening this summer. The high vaulted canopies at these stations also feature metallic, lighter materials.
The high, arching vault-like superstructure is a tribute to the original vaulted subway stations, though these are all above ground.
The “Gambrel” name comes from the gambrel roof, which is a two-sloped type of roof, common in some barns.
In addition to the eleven basic station types, six stations have unique designs that are not replicated anywhere else in the system. The unique designs are sometimes the result of geographic constraints, but in other cases were the result of design decisions.
Huntington and Anacostia are both unique stations due to geography. Between Eisenhower Avenue and Huntington, the Yellow Line runs on a viaduct over a broad valley (and the Beltway). But after crossing Huntington Avenue, the line intersects a steep hill, and the south end of the station is actually underground. Because it’s elevated at one end and underground at the other, Metro used a unique design.
Anacostia is unique because the water table meant the station couldn’t be very deep. So there wasn’t enough room for a high vault above the tracks. Instead, the station has a bunch of smaller vaults running perpendicular to the tracks.
National Airport opened in 1977 with a modified version of the Gull I design, necessary because the two platforms are very narrow. When the new airport terminal was constructed, a new northern entrance was created, and Metro built a full-length canopy over each platform. But the canopy extension didn’t match the older roof or any other in the system.
Arlington Cemetery is a very simple station. The only section of the platform that is covered is the part directly below Memorial Avenue. Another interesting feature is that while the station is at ground level, the mezzanine is below the tracks, rather than above as is usually standard.
Prince George’s Plaza is built in an open cut. Unusually, the parking garage sits atop the station and serves as the canopy. It’s a quite unique design, and the hedges growing along the exposed walls west of the garage give a nice aesthetic.
West Hyattsville, which opened in 1993 along with Prince George’s Plaza, is also unique. It’s a pretty standard side platform station like Eisenhower Avenue and Cheverly. But Metro did not use the modified Gull I canopies as at those stations. I’m not sure why a different design was used here, but I think it looks fairly sleek for a brutalist station.