For many of us, riding the CTA can be a mundane experience, but if we take a closer look at the architecture of the train stations, we will discover some interesting design. With an eclectic mix of more historic and more contemporary, the architecture of CTA stations is worth a look.
The first elevated stations were built for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, and engineers designed them, rather than architects. The first station architect for the elevated train system was William Gibb, When he designed them he had a great volume of riders in mind, but today they handle what we would consider to be a small volume in our city of around three million inhabitants. Only six of Gibb's stations remain today, and all of them are unsurprisingly on the rickety ole' Brown Line.
When you see a Classical Revival style to the terra cotta ornamentation of a CTA station, then you can guess that it was designed in the 1920s. The city was growing and booming, and the El stations expanded, too.
Over the years, many of Gibb's El stations have been torn down because they could no longer support the population of the growing city. In the case of the Fullerton Brown Line station (above), the historic Gibb station was incorporated into the new station, but the iconic Demon Dogs hot dog stand was unfortunately not.
With the changing of architectural design, as well as the evolution of the city itself, CTA train stations have to be continually updated, and sometimes they must be totally destroyed and rebuilt. Because of the public use of these buildings, any modification to them creates heated public debates. A most recent example of this would be the $203 renovation project for the Wilson Red Line station (above) in the Uptown neighborhood. For renovations like this, people haggle over the placement of the stairs on the sidewalk, the possibility of sound effecting nearby businesses, and aesthetic tastes. It shows you that architectural design of a train station goes well beyond the simple vision of an architect.
Because of the utilitarian nature of these spaces, we might expect no-name architects to be the ones to design them. Au contraire, the Logan Square Blue Line station (above) is the work of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill firm (SOM). You know them for iconic buildings of Chicago, like the Inland Steel Building, the Hancock, the so-called Willis Tower, the Trump, and also very important structures in architectural history, like the Lever House in NYC or the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. SOM has smaller, more everyday projects, too, such as the underground CTA station of Logan Square. Not many stations are so open and large, and it is also unusual for its lack of columns. You can see the entirety of the brightly lit spaces, versus the darker and more cramped feeling of older underground CTA stations.
So when you explore Chicago, remember that you don't always have to have a famous building in mind to connect with Chicago architecture.
Photos Courtesy of (Creative Commons): Jackman Chiu; Jeramey Jannene via flickr; Kevin Zolkiewicz via flickr; calvin via flickr