A Brilliant Reimagining Of The Humble Subway Station

The Bilbao-based firm, in a proposal for nearby San Sebastián, devises a subway entrance that appears to be lifted from the surrounding pavement.

If you live in New York, it’s easy to forget that subway entrances can be more than dreary stairwells leading to underground dreariness. (We await Santiago Calatrava’s dazzling PATH station at Ground Zero.) They can, in fact, be inspired works of architecture. Case in point: an ingenious proposal for the metro-station entrances of Donostia-San Sebastián by BABELStudio, which was selected (along with Snøhetta, Morphosis, and Richard Rogers) for the second phase of the city’s international competition. Instead of imagining the typical slick, futuristic glass canopies favored by today’s leading architects, the Bilbao-based BABELStudio devised urban concrete shells that appear to have been lifted up from the sidewalk of the Basque city like a concrete carpet to reveal a gleaming white stairwell.

The architects based their idea on "the manipulation of the terrain." Just as the ground was excavated for the metro tunnels, the access point is the result of cutting a slit into the pavement and raising it to create a curved, sculptural entryway. The underside of the reinforced-concrete shell would be polished white concrete, while the outside would be covered in black hexagonal ceramic tiles with three different finishes: matte, satin, and enamel. The variations in the tile, the architects say, would create a pixelated effect and "expressive nuances of light." It's a concept that celebrates the urban environment, rather than offering a distracting counterpoint to it.

Predictably, the city ultimately went with Snøhetta’s plan: a crystalline structure that glows like an architectural bauble.

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  • HM

    Nice idea, it would definitely improve the image of the subway station entrance. However, the "polished white concrete" would be an easy target for graffiti not to mention the "gleaming white stairwell" would last about a day.

  • David

    Nice design, but even I, as a 39 year old adult, would have a tought time resisting playing on that. Whether just climbing on it, or playing on it on my mountainbike.

  • ACSchellenberg

    Fun contemporary organic design. Skaters and kids animate and they become street theatre in a living space.

  • jmco

    I've seen this done before somewhere else. Maybe not for subway but the idea of the surface and structure merging. Brazil or the Netherlands maybe?
    BTW: this would (will?) be destroyed by skaters in most cities.

  • davide

    It's in Spain, Barcelona, Santa Catarina Market, by Eric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue.

  • John

    Only problem I see is that a kid would want to climb it. Heck, I would want to climb it. Then you have your skateboarders..

  • Naveen Mallikarjuna

    Beautiful. But here in Philly, I'd just settle for them keeping our dreary subway entrances CLEAN. That would make them a lot less dreary.