“The railway and its equipment as contemplated by the contract constitute a great public work.
All parts of the structure where exposed to public sight shall therefore be designed, constructed,
and maintained with a view to the beauty of their appearance, as well as to their efficiency.”
– Drafted contract documents of 1899 (Cudahy, 14)
The system of rapid transit was an innovative step in engineering.
However, its success
greatly depended on another feature, its aesthetics, and thus architecture was the driving force
Opened to the public on October 27, 1904, the city’s first official subway system, the
Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) subway, experienced a ridership total of 150,000.
opening ride on the 1
Contract line ran on what is now the #6 line from lower Manhattan at City
Hall to Grand Central, followed by the shuttle route from Grand Central to Times Square, and
then the #1, 2, 3, 9 lines from 60
Street to 145
Street in Harlem.
This line later consisted of 49
stations as its service was extended the following year, to the Bronx, and then in 1908 to Atlantic
As plans were being laid out for the construction of the IRT, both the Rapid Transit
Commission and the IRT’s Chief Engineer, William Barclay Parsons, acknowledged the need to
make the stations and the overall transit system aesthetically pleasing for passengers.
travels around Europe led him to envision a system that was rationally laid out, efficient in its
flow of commuters, equipped with a complementary architectural appearance that enhanced the
system, but did not overwhelm it.
This approach would exemplify the “father of modernism,”
the American architect, Louis Sullivan’s belief that “form follows function,”
As an underground transit system, the goal was to provide its passengers with the ease
and comfort of having an attractive, safe, and spatial environment around them.
transit architecture consists of all aspects of the subway, including underground or elevated