Typical midday rush in People’s Square station.
The life of the “BMW ethnicity” (bus walk metro) in Shanghai is a somber one. Shanghai boasts the longest metro system in the world, and has the 4th highest ridership in the world, yet those who ride the metro on a day to day basis probably wouldn’t list it as something they cherish. Of the many adjectives people would use to describe the system in its current state today you could subdivide those descriptions into two groups:
If you’ve lived in Shanghai for 6 months or less, you might say convenient, efficient, fast, or affordable.
If you’ve lived in Shanghai for 2 years or more you’d probably say suffocating, soul-crushing, robotic, dystopian or just plain “blah.”
It’s no small wonder people in Shanghai are so unhappy.
Lai Zengxiang, the lead architect of People’s Square Station, the busiest of all hubs in Shanghai recently spoke out about how embarrassed he is in retrospect over the design he chose. Cramped, inconveniently spaced and ridiculously small considering the amount of people that pass through every day, People’s Square is a product of a time when the city was quickly and cheaply expanding — worrying more about overhead costs and cutting corners than about the people who would be forced to endure it.
What People’s Square is missing, according to Lai Zengxiang, is not only more space, but also more personality.
The current station structure is simple and easy to quickly copy and construct, but the drawback is that it’s a rigid form of underground space, “limited to the pure transport functions, and lacks consideration for business, leisure, and entertainment. To put it bluntly it’s not human,and lacks of human touch, which for a large transfer station and hub, is especially desirable.
Vaulted ceilings in Moscow’s metro transform the space.
What would be an improvement on soul-whittling underground bunker style stations? Imagine vaulted ceilings adorned with chandeliers a-la the Moscow metro. Imagine instead of wall to wall advertising, we allowed Shanghai’s talented graffiti artists to decorate an entire station with their unique and captivating art. What if every station was allotted one state-approved artist for a complete redesign? What if instead of telling friends which metro stop to meet you at based on the closest intersection, you base it on the piece of unique work that accents the platform?
“I’ll meet you at Xu Bing’s” sounds a lot more enticing than Hengshan Road.
Of course the metro stations can retain their official names, but human joy is found in character, not clones. Even the smallest bit of effort can give something personality.
How many romance stories have occurred on the Shanghai metro? Movies have a certain way of making any situation romantic, yet even with the Shanghai metro at its cleanest and shiniest we’d be reminded more of a disinfected hospital waiting room.
Shanghai is slowly moving in the right direction. If you’ve been on the newer lines, such as Line 10, you’ll notice the support columns adorned with some interesting patterns in an attempt to “spice up” the platform. Adding a bit of color into the lines was a great idea on the part of the metro leadership that serves as a sort of welcome to each stop. It’s redundant in the sense that it’s not personalized to each station (every station on the line has the same decals), but it could still be considered “pleasant.” However, when you compare that attempt with something like the exquisite Stockholm metro system, and you’ll see just how far Shanghai has to go.
Shanghai Metro Line 10 (left) compared to Stockholm metro (right).