How A Space Looks When Nobody Cares: Grand Central Subway Station

Anything that could look clean looks dirty. Worse, it looks uncleanable!

A few years ago I posted an entry which included the most depressing public space on Earth the (since rebuilt) Staten Island Ferry waiting room at the St. George Terminal. It has a rival.

Here’s a photo I took at the Grand Central Station on the #7 Flushing Line.

Make no mistake I’m a subway guy. I loved riding the subways as a kid and little of that appeal has gone away. Still, this station may be the ugliest, least inviting, most depressing public space on Earth (especially since they rebuilt the St. George waiting room).

The Flushing Line (#7) station is far underground! lists the depths of the various Grand Central Stations¹

Shuttle, 20 feet below street
Lexington/East Side Subway Platforms, 50 feet
Flushing/#7 Subway Platforms, 80 feet
Metro North, Upper Level, 20 feet
Metro North, Lower Level, 60 feet

That’s eight stories down through Manhattan bedrock with multiple train, power, water and sewer lines between you and the street.

There is no fixture or feature meant to convey warmth or humanity. If it doesn’t have utility it isn’t there. Illumination is provided by fluorescent bulbs which gives the station harsh uneven lighting.

Anything that could look clean looks dirty. Worse, it looks uncleanable!

It is always noisy and usually warm.

Because the exit stairs are centered on the platform if you’re standing near them you’re uncomfortably close to the incoming trains.

For most of us it’s as close to a dungeon as we’ll ever get.

Can someone design a space like this then step away from their sketch and be happy… or proud? Who is responsible for this ugly place?

¹ – The actual Grand Central where ‘real’ trains run is called Grand Central Terminal, not station, since all trains entering the facility terminate there.

3 thoughts on “How A Space Looks When Nobody Cares: Grand Central Subway Station”

  1. yeah, that’s an ugly spot.. The Springfield, MA Amtrak Station is probably on the top ten most depressing places list. Especially considering the lovely old station that sits rotting right next to it.
    I do share your fondness for the subway.. Although not fond of the endless crowds…. I’m starting to learn my way around and it seems that all of the stations are equally sweaty & nasty.. Are there any “pretty” subway stations…

  2. The line that runs from Times square to Rector Street is actually pretty cool. As you go by, the walls are tiled so as to coordinate with the stop. Canal Street is all in Chinese and then there’s the hat district.. and so on… My wife and I were talking about it that last time we were there in June. These are very nice stations considering the abuse they take on a daily basis.

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