The Paris metro was born with the same furor as the Eiffel Tower, right on time for the World Expo at the turn of the 20th century. Over the past few months, I've spent nearly an hour everyday intimately getting to know the system that gave the world the word 'Métro'—and after a bit of design history digging, I found that there was so much more, as always, beneath the surface.
No, this is not sign celebrating All Hallow's Eve. The Paris metro entrances were designed in 1900 by architect
Hector Guimard, who festooned them with cast iron gates and a distinctive Art Nouveau lettering -- which at first may appear to be melting, but are in fact flora-inspired. Photo courtesy of mr_t_in_dc
Three stations today still boast Guimard's fan-shaped glass awnings, called édicules, as shown here at the Abbesses station in Montmartre. Photo courtesy of "rwb
Most stations have column-free vaulting with elliptical shaped walls, about 46 feet wide across the tracks and 19 feet high. The walls are lined with white bevelled tiles to reflect ambient light, and enameled nameplates up to six to eight meters long, emblazoned with the name of the station. The style and colors of the wall decor have transformed based on designers' tastes over the decades, and we can see remnants of each successive renovation program - from the dark green carrossage metal paneling at Parmentier, the flat, 1960s cafeteria-orange tiles at Oberkampf, use of colored light filters on the ceiling at Stalingrad, polished bare concrete at Meteor, and now, a slow return back to the bevelled white tiles.
Photo courtesy of
This is the entrance to St. Lazare, with a glass entrance that evokes Guimard's Art Nouveau fan awning, but in the form of a modern, technologically-infused capsule. No station is exactly the same, and many are in fact thematically decorated. For instance, the stop I frequent the most, Parmentier, currently has a very informative exhibit on the Potato crop and its importance in French history, in honor of the great French potato cultivator, Antoine Augustin Parmentier. The Louvre-Rivoli station, displays replicas of many of the artworks found at the Louvre. The walls of the Concorde station are filled with scrabble-like tiles, spelling out the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
Photo courtesy of JuanpgCourtesy of Juan Pablo Gonz·lez.
Arts and Metiers station is definitely one to be gilded into memory. The steampunk copper construction was designed in 1994, to celebrate the bicentennial of the nearby National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, in the science-fiction spirit of Belgian artist and scenographer Francois Schuiten. One can imagine descending into some subterranean Nautilus. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Chu
With green lighting and red staircases, the Cite metro (which serves Île de la Cité, the island on the Seine where Notre Dame sits) is one of the deepest and most awe-inspiring stations, designed with the concept of a giant riveted tank.
Photo courtesy of Tiffany Chu
The Père-Lachaise metro is right outside the famous cemetery outside bearing the same name, and it was the first station to be equipped with an escalator in 1909. Although over 200 stations today have some form of escalator, the Paris metro system is far from handicapped accessible, with most of them only ascending. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Chu
Line 1, the earliest line, actually corresponds directly underground with the famous Champs-Elysees in a straight line. At first, poor construction techniques forced construction to follow the roads our else builders would stumble upon cellars. Most of the Paris metro is underground, save for certain parts of lines 2 and 6 which are elevated via iron columns, such as this train headed towards Austerlitz.
Photo courtesy of Cyrille Lips
Now, the newer lines are fully automated and have sliding glass doors that separate the platform from the tracks, a la Copenhagen, Singapore, and other leading metropolitan systems. This is line 14, at Chatelet. Chatelet-Les Halles is an incredible morass to navigate (and one that I try to avoid at all costs, as it may very well take ten minutes to make one transfer), with five metro lines and three RER commuter rail lines intersecting at the world's largest underground station.
Photo courtesy of harry_nl
The Paris metro holds a variety of different types of seating, most of them constructed from a single piece of molded plastic in varying electric hues, from yellow to red-orange to chartreuse. I also noticed the standard amount of distance between each seems rather awkward for maintaining conversation with un bon ami- although it was probably designed to preclude unnecessary contact with neighboring vagrants. Last year, much ado occurred when Ikea launched a marketing campaign to bring the living room to the metro, adorning the station platforms with fluffy sofas and minimalist lamps (though I am not sure for how long they remained sanitary and desirable for sprawling.)
Photo courtesy of Xwilly