Blog: Riding the Los Angeles Metro

December 13, 2012 /

Los Angeles, California, USA

By Kirsten Kiser, Editor-In-Chief,         

Architects and artists have collaborated on turning the new LA Metro Stations into exciting, colorful spaces that reflect a community of culturally diverse people.

Los Angeles County Metro Rail, a heavy rail rapid transit line in Los Angeles, includes the Red and Purple subway lines, as well as the Gold, Blue, Orange, Silver and Green light rail lines. We took the Red Line stopping at every station from San Fernando Valley, through Hollywood, to the historic Union Station Downtown LA.

North Hollywood (2000)

Architects: The Tanzmann Associates

Station Design Artist: James Doolin

Station mural artist: Anne Marie Karlsen


Photo: arcspace

The design for this station celebrates North Hollywood, honoring the broad valley where succeeding generations of immigrants have come to realize their dreams. Passengers enter beneath three colorful arched canopies with Karlsen's large tile murals depicting kaleidoscopic collages that reflect the station's theme of "The California Dream." On the platform the tall columns are clad with sunny yellow tiles.


Photo: arcspace


Photo: arcspace


Architects: Siegel Diamond Architecture

Artist: Margaret Garcia


Photo: arcspace

Adjacent to the historic site of the Campo de Cahuenga, where in 1847 Mexico relinquished control of California to the United States, this station focuses on the significance of this event to California's history. 

A series of highly stylized trees on the station platform provide a dynamic canopy over the interior space. Symbolizing life, time and growth, the design of these interior trees was influenced by the mature pepper trees that once lined Lankershim Boulevard.


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Each tree trunk is clad in handmade colorful art tiles that reflect the history of the area and its people, and offers a visual and textual narrative of the events leading up to the Capitulation of Cahuenga.


Photo: arcspace

Hollywood and Highland

Architects: Dworsky Associates

Artist: Sheila Klein

Photo: arcspace

This station honors the cinematic, theatrical, and fantastical heritage that is Hollywood. The concrete station box has been transformed into a telescoping, organic form where rhythmic breaks in the walls and ceiling panels reveal structural supports; in much the same way, movie or theater production stage sets, or the nearby Hollywood sign, are facades held in place. Sculptural forms are attached like organisms to the platform columns and boldly illuminate the station's cavity.

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

All film, to one degree or another, is about fantasy. The architectural tradition of Hollywood Boulevard is also about fantasy. This station embodies just a small fraction of the energy and creativity that has made Hollywood an internationally recognized icon.Doug Dworsky

Get off here and walk along Hollywood Boulevard's "Walk of Fame," embedded with bronze and terrazzo stars, to the next station at Hollywood and Vine.

The surrounding area is a true Hollywood experience. From the Chinese Theater, the El Capitan Theater, the Egyptian Theater, to Musso & Franks, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. Do stop by the Tropicana Bar at the Roosevelt hotel with the pool bottom mural by David Hockney.

Hollywood and Vine

Architects: Miralles Associates, Inc.

Artist: Gilbert "Magu" Lujan


Photo: arcspace

For this station, located at one of the most famous intersections in the world, the artist and architect worked together to evoke the history, glamour and excitement of the Hollywood film industry's yesteryears and its great movie palaces.

From the street level plaza down to the subway platform, passengers follow paving which recalls the yellow brick road from the "Wizard of Oz" and pass by 240 hand painted art tiles on the station walls.


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The interior of the station contains various artefacts and references to the film industry. Film reels decorate the ceiling while two original film projectors from the 1930s, donated by Paramount Pictures, are on exhibit.


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Photo: arcspace

Hollywood and Western

Architects: Escudero-Fribourg Architects

Artist: May Sun


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Paying homage to the native Mestizo heritage and original European settlement, as well as to the asian backgrounds of more recent immigrants in the area, the architects and artist covered the station walls and columns in a field of randomly colored wall tiles.

The boldness and brightness of the tiles stand in welcome relief to the surrounding muted tones of this dusty corner.Arturo Fribourg

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Photo: arcspace

A new apartment building, and the station entrance on street level, reflects the same colors.

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Vermont and Sunset (1999)
Architects: Diedrich Architects & Associates Inc.
Artist: Michael Davis


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The design of this station makes use of numerous elements drawn from the neighboring landmark medical centers. 

The design incorporates a sequence of uniquely defined spaces which serve to orient patrons as they transition from the street to the train platform. For me, one of the most exciting aspects of being an architect has become working with artists.
Richard J. Diedrich


Photo: arcspace


Photo: arcspace

Davis inlaid the station floor and walls with granite patterns of celestial orbits and metal etched with spheres containing medical symbols and microscopic images of life forms, a reference to the iconography that is commonly shared by astronomy and medicine. 
From the mezzanine deck passengers can gaze upon a chart which maps their placement in the universe. 


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I am strongly influenced by science and astronomy whose primary investigations seek the origins of life forms. I don't want illness to be hidden. I want to introduce the young patients/patrons of the medical facilities to studies of medicine and science.
Michael Davis

Vermont and Santa Monica

Architects: Ellerbe-Becket, Inc.

Artist: Robert Millar


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The main entrance of this station is marked by a bold stainless steel "wing" canopy, and the space beneath is punctuated by skylights which flooding the space with daylight. At night, on the street level, these skylights become a brightly lit "stage" for performing arts groups.

Photo: arcspace


Photo: arcspace

Reflecting his inquiry into issues related to the project, artist Robert Millar layered thousands of subtly painted questions onto the concrete surfaces of the main entryway. As escalators carry riders through this space, overhead beams rhythmically reveal polycarbonate and aluminum paintings while natural and colored fluorescent lights reflect on their undulating surfaces.


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By questioning the very nature of place versus space, the artist and architect seek to heighten our awareness of our location within the urban environment.

When Robert came onto the project he started to question some of the things that we had accepted…and ended up reconfiguring the back end of the plaza and the transition spaces. What interests me about Robert's work is that it doesn't deal with art as an object. It not only affects the viewer but it engages the viewer and the space.
Mehrdad Yazdani 

Vermont and Beverly

Architects: Anil Verma Associates, Inc.

Artist: George Stone


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This station emphasizes and celebrates the appeal of both classical architecture and nature. Glass-clad columns with shaped metal capitals provide stark contrast to the beauty of natural looking rock formations found at all levels of the station, including the entrance area.


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During the collaborative process, both artist and architect embraced the concept of inserting seemingly natural rocks within the contours of the traditionally designed station "box." The unusual sculptures provide multiple levels of meaning. For example, their authenticity reminds riders that the station exists within a natural geological setting while their artificiality recalls illusory theatrical props used in the movie industry as well as the area's numerous theme parks.


Photo: arcspace


Photo: arcspace

The Team carefully coordinated the location, massing and shape of the rockwork to maximize the power of nature over the man-made environment, and to portray the contrast between the classic and the primal, the sleek, high-tech functional space of the subway and the raw earthy mass it displaces.
Anil Verma

Wilshire and Vermont (2007)

Architects: Arquitectonica

Artist: Peter Shire

Artist: Bob Zoell

Photo: arcspace

The building complex above and the new station entrance, designed by Arquitectonica, was recently completed. Two murals by April Greiman cover the ends of the building.


Photo: arcspace


Photo: arcspace

Descending to the station Shire created "Los Angeles Seen (1996)," a series of sculptures that float throughout the entrance conveying a theatrical, circus-like atmosphere.

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Bob Zoell has abstracted the appearance and arrangement of typographic design symbols to create a bold and graphic series of ceramic tile murals. The artwork covers four columns at the station platforms. 


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El Sol/La Luna (1993)

Artist: Francisco Latelier

Echoing the vibrant color scheme which dominates the Westlake/MacArthur Station, intense blues, reds, and yellows are woven together in two ceramic tile murals which enrich the mezzanine end walls. In El Sol and La Luna, Letelier uses images of the people and landmarks of MacArthur Park to reference the past, as well as the still unfolding cultural history of the present community.


Photo: arcspace

I feel a special affinity with many members of the community surrounding the station. I also have left the country of my birth and started a new life in Los Angeles. These murals are celebrations of history, culture and persistence.Francisco Latelier

Pershing Square
Neons for Pershing Square (1993)

Artist: Stephen Antonakos


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In 1924 the first neon sign in the United States was posted around the corner from Pershing Square. Commemorating this art form, neon artist Antonakos created Neons for Pershing Square, a series of neon sculptures suspended from the station's high ceiling. The twelve sculptures, with their imaginative shapes and bright colors, create an exciting, lively atmosphere in this modern station. 


Photo: arcspace

The neons are meant to be seen each for themselves, in combinations and as a total group. The forms are open, allowing architectural elements to be seen through them. This means that not only the columns, the ceiling and the walls, but the space all around them is brought into the experience of the art."Stephen Antonakos

Civic Center
I dreamed I could Fly (1993)

Artist: Jonathan Borofsky


Photo: arcspace

"I Dreamed I Could Fly" is an interpretation of the artist's dreams of soaring above ground. The six fiberglass figures, all resembling the artist, hover and cast large shadows in the high bay area of Civic Center Station. The work has an audio element as well - the figures are accompanied by an occasional trill of a bird. The numbers on the sculptures are a particular characteristic of Borofsky's work: the artist consecutively numbers all of his work - from working notes and sketches to finished artworks.


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Union Station
LA: City of Angels, 1993

Artist: Cynthia Carlson

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The "LA: City of Angels," painting on aluminum panels, located above the escalators at the west entrance to the Metro Red Line subway station, conceptually combines the history of the founding of Los Angeles by eleven Mexican, Native American and African American families, with angels from different religions. The artist constructed eleven wings, each representing one of the founding families and named for an angel, which hover over the blue and green California coastline. 


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LA: City of Angels is intended to be a witty homage to the city's history, its origins as well as its contemporary presence.Cynthia Carlson

Union Station Los Angeles, which opened in May 1939, is known as the "Last of the Great Railway Stations" built in the United States, but even with its massive and ornate waiting room and adjacent ticket concourse, it is considered small in comparison to other union stations.
More about Union Station.

From Union Station you are in close proximity to Gehry Partners Disney Concert Hall, Isozaki's MOCA, Moneo's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Morphosis' Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, Coop Himmelb(l)au's High School for the Visual and Performing Arts and do not miss China Town and Little Tokyo.

We were told later there was a 2.6 earthquake when we took the Metro. We did not feel it but the fear is always there when you go underground in LA. The tunnels are supposedly designed to withstand even the big one!

Established in 1989, Metro's Art Department has commissioned over 250 artists for a wide variety of projects. Artists are selected through a peer review process with community input; all works are created especially for their transit-related sites.

Metro policy allocates 0.5% of rail construction costs to the enhancement of the rail system through the arts. Artists, design professionals and community members are brought together in the design of rail transit facilities and construction mitigation programs. Many of these rail projects have involved artists as members on interdisciplinary station design teams. Sixty-three stations are currently in operation with more planned in the coming years.

Los Angeles Metro

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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