BBC Culture

World’s most beautiful Metro stations

  • Best for natural light: Formosa Boulevard, Kaohsiung

    A Metro station in Amsterdam has won a 2014 Royal Institute of British Architects Award. With laser-cut steel screens allowing light to filter through, Kraaiennest station is now “a lantern for the local neighbourhood” at night, according to the firm behind its overhaul. Other projects illuminating subway travellers include a giant domed skylight set to open in New York later in 2014, stained-glass windows by the artist Marcelle Ferron at Montreal’s Champ-de-Mars station, and a glass roof spanning St Quirin Platz in Munich that integrates the station into a park. But the best station for daylight is Formosa Boulevard in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Created by the artist Narcissus Quagliata, the Dome of Light (pictured) is made up of curved stained glass and is the largest installation of its kind in the world. (Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Best for grandeur: Komsomolskaya, Moscow

    US inventor Alfred Ely Beach came up with a subway, the Beach Pneumatic Transit, in 1870: his station boasted “a grand piano, chandeliers and an operational fountain stocked with goldfish”. Away from the surface, chandeliers are the lighting of choice for the world’s grandest stations. Komsomolskaya station in Moscow (pictured) boasts a huge dome, Corinthian columns and eight ceiling mosaics by the artist Pavel Korin, depicting Russian heroes. Korin and the architect Alexey Schusev were awarded the Stalin Prize for their work on the station, which opened in 1952. Copious marble and a statue of Lenin raise the bar at Kirovsky Zavod station in St Petersburg and the Zoloti Vorota station in Kiev was inspired by an ancient temple, featuring mosaics of the city’s oldest churches. (Kirill Kudryavtsev /AFP/Getty Images)

  • Best murals: Universidad de Chile, Santiago

    Beneath the university that taught Nobel Prize winning poets Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, the Universidad de Chile station in Santiago (pictured) contains the vast mural Visual Memory of a Nation, by Chilean painter Mario Toral. Its six panels span 1,200 sq m and depict the the Spanish conquistadors, the lives of miners and the repression of the country’s military dictatorship – giving the everyday platforms of the railway the atmosphere of a Renaissance church. In North Korea, subway wall images have a more official air: Puhung station in Pyongyang dedicates an entire wall to a mosaic called The Great Leader Kim II Sung among Workers. Other murals include A Morning of Innovation and Song of a Bumper Crop. (Stefano Politi Markovina /Alamy)

  • Best-known architects: Canary Wharf, London

    One of the biggest names in architecture, Zaha Hadid, has been chosen to design a Metro station in Saudi Arabia, although it won’t be complete for a few more years. She follows other ‘starchitects’ who have tried their hand at subways. London’s Canary Wharf station (pictured) – which could also qualify for ‘best longshot on an escalator’, starring in films like Love Actually and 28 Days Later – was completed in 1999 and won several architecture awards. The station is designed by Norman Foster and forms part of the remodelling and extension of the Jubilee Line that brought together leading architects under the coordination of Roland Paoletti. Another top architect, Richard Rogers, is behind a station in Taiwan that brings nature into its bowels. A design featuring banks of grass and a stream of water surround the escalators at Central Park station, leaving the concourse open and drawing down natural light and fresh air. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • Best art: T-Centralen, Stockholm

    Stockholm’s Metro system, has been called ‘the world’s largest art museum’. Every station displays artworks, and the deepest stops – cut out of solid rock – feature cave-like arches. The hub T-Centralen (pictured) was painted by Finnish artist Per Olaf Utvedt, and the red walls and ceiling of Solna Centrum create a station that’s more underworld than underground. (AFP Photo / Jonathan Nackstrand)

  • Best lighting: Westfriedhof, Munich

    Dubai is never short on ostentation, and the Emirate’s showy Metro system is themed spectacularly around the four elements. One station is full of curves echoing sand dunes; another has a fiery glow to suggest the inside of a volcano. But the most over-the-top is BurJurman station, which features an underwater look, complete with giant chandeliers in the shape of jellyfish. At the other end of the scale, Munich’s Westfriedhof station has its own set of oversized but understated lamps (pictured) from a designer with impeccable credentials. Ingo Maurer’s lighting has been exhibited in Europe, Japan and the US, with several of his designs in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. In 2001 he created 11 huge aluminium shades, which cast colour over the station’s concrete walls and platforms. Eight years later, Maurer developed the lighting concept for the Münchener Freiheit interchange, where a mirror-finished stainless steel ceiling and recessed blue LEDs make pillars appear to glow from the inside. (Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Best wall surfaces: Toledo, Naples

    For retro-futurist charm, nothing beats the dimpled tunnel walls of Prague’s Metro. But an Italian city takes the top spot for a project that has transformed its underground system into a visual spectacle. The ‘art stations’ initiative in Naples has challenged world-renowned architects and designers such as Karim Rashid, Sol LeWitt and Anish Kapoor to overhaul the city’s subway. Acclaimed Catalan architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca designed the Toledo station (pictured), which opened in 2012, with mosaics by the artist William Kentridge and a seascape by Robert Wilson made up of LED wall panels. On the wall between the ground floor and lower levels, thousands of Bisazza tiles move from light to dark blue as passengers travel down the escalators. One city counsellor told The New York Times: “The art works are respected, they haven’t been vandalized,” calling it a “public miracle,” especially in a city that “has the ability to self-destruct.” (Mario Laporta/AFP/Getty Images)