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Creator of Metro’s look critiques its sign clutter
WASHINGTON (AP) — The man who helped create the look of Washington’s subway system said Saturday that some of the signs that have since gone up are clutter and should be taken down quietly in the night to preserve the architecture.
Massimo Vignelli, who designed the signage for Washington’s Metro system as well as a map for the New York City subway system, spoke during a panel at Metro headquarters.
Vignelli’s brown pylons with station names are an icon of the more than 100-mile system and its 86 stops. He designed the original signage throughout the system, which opened in 1976, but said it has since become cluttered with sign “pollution” that should be taken down.
“Get rid of it,” said Vignelli, who spoke to about 80 people, only three of whom admitted having not ridden the Metro system.
He said after the talk that putting signs up on the walls of the system’s vaulted stations was like putting advertising on a church or the White House.
Vignelli, who was born in Italy, was already known for New York’s map before coming to Washington. In 1972, he designed a new map hailed by some for its clean, simple design. It became part of the collection of the city’s Museum of Modern Art. But the map was also criticized for not relating the underground subway lines to aboveground geography. It was replaced in 1979.
In Washington, however, Vignelli said he got the job for designing the signage not because he was good but because he was a friend of Chicago architect Harry Weese, who was designing the system. Another man, Lance Wyman, designed the system’s map.
Weese, who died in 1998 at the age of 83, wanted the design of his underground stations to reflect Rome’s Pantheon and the Baths of Caracalla. As a result, Weese told Vignelli he didn’t want anything hanging from the ceiling or attached to the walls of his stations.
Instead, to display station names and information, Vignelli proposed the square, brown pillars that dot the system today. The so-called “pylons” also hide air ducts and station lights. Originally the stations’ names were only on the pillars, written like titles on the spines of books on a bookshelf.
Customers, however, complained, and a newspaper cartoonist poked fun at the system by drawing patrons coming out of it with their heads cocked, as if to read the signs.
“People were horrified at the beginning about the name going down like that,” Vignelli said.
As a result, Metro put up signs that read left to right on the walls of stations. Vignelli said he disapproved because it detracted from the architecture, suggested the signs should be taken down quietly in the night.
“Signage should be kept to a minimum … but be there when you need it,” Vignelli said.
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