The great architecture critic Vincent Scully once wrote about the then-newly rebuilt Penn Station: “One [previously] entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”
Indeed, it’s hard not to think of Scully’s classic burn when arriving at any number of the city’s 400-plus subway stations: the fetid 4/5 platform at 59th Street, say, or the dank, leaky, rat-infested lair at 168th Street.
But not all subway stations are created equal. Some are actually … really nice! And, with beautification projects ranging from the new murals at the 191st Street Tunnel to LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy's attempt to turn the MTA's turnstiles into music-making machines, it's clear that not every subway commute has to inspire dread. Here, we've rounded up a few of our favorite stops, from the Natural History Museum's iconic subterranean mosaics to a Bronx station that looks like an Italian villa.
"For Want of a Nail" (2000) © Arts & Design Collaborative
81st Street - Museum of Natural History (A, B, C lines)
The bronze, granite, ceramic and glass mosaics in this station depict the evolution of life from the Big Bang to the present day. The sparkling under-the-sea tableau is particularly dazzling.
Sky Reflector-Net: James Carpenter Design Associates, Grimshaw Architects, Arup
Fulton Street (2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, Z)
The newly opened, futuristic-looking terminal boasts a glass-and-steel oculus, a spiral staircase that snakes around a tubular glass elevator and lots of shiny, bright surfaces. Also: sunshine!
Built in 1912, the East 180th Street station in the Bronx originally served as an administration building for the New York, Westchester and Boston Railway.
East 180th Street (2, 5)
A subway station that looks like a terra cotta Italian villa way out in the Bronx? Believe it.
"My Coney Island Baby" © Robert Wilson.
Coney Island - Stillwell Avenue (D, F, N, Q)
The elevated platform allows commuters views of the ocean and amusement park, while the station itself includes artful glass-brick walls with silkscreened Coney Island icons, like a Nathan’s hotdog and a girl riding a carousel horse.
"Metromorphosis/Birth of a Station" © Corinne Grondahl.
Mosholu Parkway (4)
The Bronx is full of stations adorned with gorgeous stained glass windows, commissioned by different artists. Impossible to choose just one, but Mosholu Parkway’s abstract, colorful murals — by Corinne Grondahl — are a good place to start.
" Community Garden" (2006) © Andrea Dezsö, c ommissioned by Metropolitan Transportation Authority Arts & Design.
Bedford Park Boulevard (B, D)
OK, we have a thing for nature mosaics (see the Natural History Museum stop above). The theme at this station is “community garden,” with murals bursting with colorful flowers and insects. (Also recommended: the wildlife murals at the newly renovated Jay Street Metro Tech Station in Brooklyn.)
The City Hall station includes tilework from the famed Rafael Guastavino.
BONUS: City Hall Station (closed)
This 1904 masterpiece, with its vaunted ceilings, colored glass tilework and brass chandeliers, is no longer functional, but you can still basque in its glory. The Transit Museum offers tours of this vintage station, but commuters catch a glimpse of it by staying on the 6 after it terminates at the Brooklyn Bridge City Hall stop — as the train loops around the track it passes by the defunct station.