Warsaw underground station wins international design award

Wilson Square station in Warsaw

The Polish capital Warsaw may have a lot going for it, but its underground rail system is hardly a matter of pride. After two decades of work its one and only line is still not completed. That said, at least one of its stations does have something to shout about – the Wilson Square station received top honours at the MetroRail 2008 Conference in Copenhagen. Polish Radio’s Bogdan Zaryn went underground for this report.

The Plac Wilsona or Wilson Square station – named after US president Woodrow Wilson – is considered by many architects to be a work of art. It is located in the very center of the historic Zoliborz district which lies on the picturesque western bank of the Vistula River. For over two decades Varsovians have had to bare the ruckus of metro construction waiting endlessly for the underground to finally be operational. The Wilson Square station is part of a planned 22-station, meagre twenty-three kilometer underground track. Surprisingly, this minute subway stop has been given ‘Best Station Award’ at the MetroRail conference in Copenhagen.. So I have decided to take a closer look at the station’s computerized nerve center and see for myself just how special the Wilson Square station really is.

‘We are in the main control room of the Plac Wilsona station.’ And I am speaking with …

Jerzy Leik, president of the board CEO of Warsaw Metro.

‘I am looking at eight monitors. What are we looking at here?

‘The security of our passengers, our traffic. This special room in the station is part of a big dispatcher center. It is like Big Brother. We have many cameras, we have special equipment.’

‘The ceiling looks like something completely from outer space.’

‘The colours are changing every day. In the morning it is green, in the afternoon it is red and blue and in the evening it is blue. It’s like a normal sky. We are really underground.’

‘We are about 16 meters underground.’

Wilson square station, we started with new technology, new speed and new solutions.’

‘I’m talking now to the chief architect of the Plac Wilsona metro station’

‘Andrzej Choldzynski’

‘I feel like I am in a star ship, in a Star Wars movie because I am looking at an elliptic dome of sorts’

‘The southern part of the station was supposed to attract 80% of passengers. So the only way to help find a way out of the square is to create a major space, exceptionally light, exceptional by its size. There’s one nave about 35 metres large and about 12 metres high and then why an elliptical shape? Because it was one of the elements we can create to play with the light and say to the people who are underground, you’re underground and you have your sky.’

‘There’s a motif, a wave is ever-present, wherever one looks.’

‘We are close to the Vistula River which is the epitome of the Zoliborz which is the name of this district. So we have this motif of the river in a ceiling of the lower part of the platform. Then we have this motif in the stone carvings of the barriers almost everywhere.’

And what are average Polish commuters saying to all of this?

‘It’s quite nice. I ride it everyday, I’m proud of this.’

‘I think it’s total crap. It’s ugly, it’s too dark colour, and it has some strange metal elevation’.

‘I think it’s a quite good station and it is nice.’

Award-winning design standards are fine but what Varsovians are really looking forward to are high-tech metro trains and a faster expansion of the underground network which would span the entire capital city.