blarg?

November 23, 2007

Urban Mythology

Filed under: awesome,beauty,life,travel — mhoye @ 3:22 pm

I was travelling around in the Montreal Metro last night, just an hour or two after I first saw Terminus. A great, surreal experience, that was.

Le Metro here is a lot more interesting than Toronto’s subway system, a terrific place for retro gawking; built between the late sixties and early eighties it’s designed in a way that was intended to be futuristic back then, and if you’ve got a single milled-brass, piston-powered retrofuturist bone in your body then you owe it to yourself to take a look around. Everything was built to be futuristic at a time when futuristic meant decisive colors, brushed metal and lots of concrete and every station, as far as I can tell, has a unique plan, color scheme and decor.

At first a lot of it looks somewhat seventies-tacky and garish. Even vaguely Stalinist, if we’re talking about a somewhat more rounded-edged, kids-toy Stalinism with bright, pleasingly-contrasting paint colors, high-quality concrete and craftmen with more pride-of-ownership than fear-of-Siberia. A Stalinism where Tonka handled the tractor quotas, or something. At night, my trip felt a little bit dark and ominous, but once I soaked in it for a bit and took the time to look around, I got a sense that the architects were aiming in some sense to balance futurism against humility. As in, we know that the future won’t look like this, nobody has ever been able to make that trick work, but let’s try for futuristic but present-functional, and show some respect for the permanence of something that we’re building to last and the people who’ll be walking around in it every day.

And that approach, if I’m right about that, has really worked well; in a couple of different stations, I found myself thinking that while it turned out not to be the future, it’s definitely a future. One of the futures we wound up not using, frozen in an amber of concrete and ceramic. Very cool and often beautiful, in the way that well-made old TVs and clocks and radios are beautiful.

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