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.