Thursday, November 10, 2005

WOODLEY PARK: A Canopy Rises

EVERY NIGHT when I've been returning home, I've been amazed with the quick process to assemble one of the new escalator canopies at Woodley Park's Metrorail station. By the end of this year, Metro plans that every escalator on the Red Line in the upper Connecticut Avenue corridor (and at other stations throughout the system) will have a glass and steel canopy.

The process is fairly quick. First, some of the stonework has to be removed, then a temporary wood and steel roof erected, then a crane comes in with some of the larger structural pieces and soon enough, the canopy takes shape. Metro's aim is not only to create an attractive covering but also better protect the escalators, many which have been exposed to the elements for the past 25+ years.

THE ESCALATORS at the southern entrance to the Dupont Circle station received one of the first such canopies earlier this year. While the canopy for this escalator, which dumps you out on 19th Street NW, is indeed nice, the escalator has also lost something.

According to the AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, D.C.:
... [T]hose with a flair for the dramatic, tend to favor the stations at Dupont Circle and Woodley Park, where riding the escalator up to the sunshine makes one hum the Prisoner's Chorus from Fidelio.
I CAN'T SAY I'VE HUMMED THE PRISONER'S CHORUS heading up, but I see the comparison (I have seen plenty of grumpy office slaves on escalators). But now, at 19th Street, the tiny escalator tube -- which can easily cause dizziness or vertigo to those who are susceptible -- is capped with a canopy. The open sky above is no more. Sure, the canopy allows light in, but the original effect is now lost.

Fortunately, the deep circular pit that houses the Q Street escalators at Dupont Circle seems to be too large to be capped by a canopy. I hope it stays forever open to the elements. It is there in that large feat of engineering that you appreciate the construction challenges that had to be overcome to build the Metrorail system.

>> "Comprehensive canopy program — protecting our escalators" [WMATA]

"Metro Subway Stairs, Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C." by Javier Gil, via the Fraser Gallery


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