Union Station Metro Gets Painted White

by Prince Of Petworth April 3, 2017 at 10:00 am 57 Comments

metro paint

I thought for sure this would be an April Fools joke until I saw it with my own eyes. Thanks to all who emailed, I took these photos on Sunday morning.

Curbed DC reported a response from WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel:

“Metro is in the process of painting the Union Station vault to create a lighter, brighter station environment for customers at our busiest station. Customer frequently comment about station lighting, asking Metro for brighter stations, which also helps them feel safer and more secure. While power washing was considered, years of dust, dirt, and grime coating the vault cannot effectively be cleaned and does little to move the needle when it comes to brightness. (Power washing occurs before painting, so if you’ve seen photos showing the partially painted vault at Union Station, you can see the difference paint makes.) And if you’ve been to Union Station today, you can see the difference firsthand.

In an email to Curbed DC, Stessel said that Union Station is currently the only station getting a paint job, further adding, “Metro will determine next steps once Union Station is completed.”

union station paint

After the jump a reader sends a letter of objection to metro GM Paul Wiedefeld from the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

metro paint letter

  • Anon

    No qualms over this whatsoever. Paint over all the brutalist buildings. (Though this is a missed opportunity to add some life – should’ve worked with an artist to add some color/interest to the panels.)

    • Elkhaert

      They still could. Even if they went mural, the white base helps.

      • maxwell smart

        If they are going to go that route and destroy the architecture of the stations, then sell all the wall space to advertisement. Wrap the entire vault in paid for advertising surface and at least get corporate money to fund our pathetic excuse for public transit.

  • I. Rex

    I am absolutely fine with Metro painting the interior of the Union Station walls and wish they would do that with all the Metro stops. The AIA can go pound sand. I am tired of these Brutalism loving Harry Weese fetishists telling the regular people who have to commute on the Metro for a living that we should live like mole people in these dark depressing stations on a day to day basis.

    • anon

      it’s gonna look like a grow house with the bright LEDs against a big white canvas.

      Waybe they can put some red neon lighting and get a “Bad Chicken” vide like Kramer had on that Kenny Rogers Chicken episode.

      • Anon

        Both of those options seem markedly better than the existing touch of suicide drab.

    • anon

      This has no bearing on the architectural style and there was no preservation argument in that letter. There was a valid aesthetic argument around design.

  • wdc

    While I would love the stations to be brighter, it’s going to look terrible in no time flat. There is no way they’re going to maintain that white.

    • ET

      Definitely. I think it is Eastern Market or Potomac that this got done to a few years ago and now it looks like dirty white paint. The plain cement camouflaged that dust/dirt better.

  • Anon

    The stations as is are depressing while the white paint is jarring. Maybe painting them a light blue gray or similar could clean up the stations while adding a bit of serenity.

  • asdf

    Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Absolutely dumb. Three points: 1 – White painted walls will get noticeably more dingy and show stains much more quickly and prominently than simple grey concrete wall. 2 – This creates additional maintenance obligations and cost, and paint on porous concrete or brick is impossible to remove. Can’t undo this. 3 – Isn’t Metro in a death spiral? Catastrophic infrastructural problems, safety issues, and diminishing ridership? Is this where Metro should be putting it’s time, effort, and dwindling funds?

    • PetworthAnon

      Metro painted Farragut North white in the oughts and it is still much brighter today then it was in the 90’s. Farragut North and Union Station are some of the original stations that first opened in the mid 70’s. A coat of paint to brighten up 40 years of grime seems like a good idea. I’ve often wondered why only Farragut North got painted. Was it paid for by Downtown BID or whichever BID covers that part of town?

      • Hill Denizen

        Can’t they powerblast the walls to clean the grime off instead?

        • FridayGirl

          Per the post: “While power washing was considered, years of dust, dirt, and grime coating the vault cannot effectively be cleaned and does little to move the needle when it comes to brightness.”

          • maxwell smart

            and you know what’s a great material for hiding years of dust, dirt and grime? It sure isn’t a coat of bright white paint – it’s exposed concrete! So instead of addressing the real problem – light levels – instead they have now created an additional maintenance problem, white paint, which will need to be repainted yearly, at a minimum, to maintain it’s effectiveness. It’s Wiedefeld’s solution to everything – rather than solve the problem, let’s mask it with something that looks/sounds good but doesn’t actually do anything. Rather then install higher efficiency escalators, let’s just tell people not to walk on them. Snow storm coming – let’s shut the system down despite every other metro authority saying that is the worst thing you can do because it takes longer to clear the tracks. I had hopes that Wiedefeld was going to turn the system around, but he has failed to do anything other than create more burdens, shift blame, and generally set WMATA up to be sold off or shut down.

    • That Man A

      This wasnt well thought out at all imo
      plus you cover up the main thing that makes it a brutalist style
      but white… white?? awful choice
      enjoy it while it looks good for the moth
      im extremely doubtful they will be able to keep it looking halfway decent

      • Anon

        “plus you cover up the main thing that makes it a brutalist style” – that’s precisely the idea: kill it with fire. (Too soon, WMATA?)

        • Florista

          As a person stuck in the Smoke Train of 2015, YES IT IS STILL TOO SOON.

    • anon

      it should at least have been tested against the proposed lighting enhancements

    • FridayGirl

      Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

  • 9th Street Neighbor

    Where is the money coming from? Metro is broke. Regardless of the merits on whether the paint job adds to a brighter metro stop, the optics of this is horrible. Metro is broke, looking for money from the Feds and the three goverments, and they go off, spending money they don’t have, to undertake project which has has not been needed/required or deemed necessary for more than 40 years. GM Wiedefeld has made a lousy, very ill-timed decision.

    • derfviuhvhrug

      It’s a safety/ADA issue. Dark stations make it very difficult for those with low-vision to navigate.

      • Anon X

        If only there was a thomas edison invention that could be used to rectify this situation…

      • Hill Denizen

        Or you know, they could just install better lighting.

        • anon

          there have been lighting upgrades in some stations and it’s a noticeable improvement. This seems like too much of a good thing

        • maxwell smart

          +1 They could have easily found a lighting solution that respected the design integrity of the stations

          • anon

            not only do you make an excellent point but I’m envisioning you entering your response on a smart shoe :-)

  • anon


  • area_man

    Whatever your thoughts on the controversy, it should be noted that the paint job is incredibly shoddy. Very thin, sprayed on paint that barely covers the concrete. They also took no care to avoid getting paint on the acoustic panels, which I assume they will now have to repaint or clean. Looks like your typical house flippers exterior paint job. Quick and cheap

    • derfviuhvhrug

      They’re not done painting. It’s a three coat process.

    • Anon.

      I must say that on my Friday evening commute it already felt much brighter in the station (on the shady grove side) and it looked it was only primer. When it is finished its going to be really bright! Almost like the station isn’t underground.

  • CE

    This looks awful, and will soon look worse.

  • Belinskaya

    Having watched for years as the plastic packing film slowly peeled off the ceiling tiles at Metro Center and turned more and more dingy on a daily basis, my hopes for maintenance here are not high.

  • maxwell smart

    This is a terrible decision. Brutalism is supposed to be about raw materials; Painting over the exposed concrete destroys the design intent entirely. Additionally it creates disparity between stations – one of the things that makes DC metro unique is the stations all following a similar set of design moves. It also somehow manages to make the station architecture look more cheap, almost like plastic.

    • fka Petworth

      Some stations (such as Capitol South) are already regularly painted, FWIW. Perhaps this is an attempt to unify all of them.

      • maxwell smart

        again, though, it’s in direct opposition to the original design intent of the architecture. How would everyone feel if Trump had painted the White House gold? Or if the Washington Monument was painted over with a mural? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think everything needs to be preserved for the sake of preservation, but I think the DC metro is actually a very beautiful example of brutalist architecture. I love the moodiness of the stations, the exposed materials, and the general look and feel. The white paint gives this a cheap and plastic look that is going to be dirty within months.

      • maxwell smart

        and to add to that, they’ve now taken a material that required virtually no maintenance and made it high maintenance.

    • F Brutalism

      Just because Brutalism is a style of architecture, doesn’t mean it’s a good style of architecture. We should care more about the people that have to start their day in a dark depressing underground cave, than preserving a style.

      • maxwell smart

        I would think the appearance of the stations ranks pretty low on the list of things that people dislike about WMATA.

  • Anon X

    I would be all for eliminating the station designs and installing a second level of trains to provide more than 1 track in every direction like every other major subway system in the world. The paint is fine – but if its for illumination, more lumens seems like an inevitable step – whether they paint or not.

    • Arouet

      Okay, do you want to pony up the untold tens or hundreds of billions of dollars that would cost?

      • Anon X

        No, but I’ll happily pay my share through increased taxes and higher fares.

    • west_egg

      “more than 1 track in every direction like every other major subway system in the world”
      False: https://ggwash.org/view/3135/was-the-lack-of-express-tracks-a-lack-of-foresight

      • Blithe

        Thanks for the link to this excellent article. When I hear and read comments by people clamoring for express tracks, I often wonder if they have any idea how disruptive the original Metro construction was to the city and to those of us who lived here — to the businesses that closed, to the homeowners that were inconvenienced by years of noise and to a critical lack of access in many neighborhoods. While it’s great that at least some people are willing to tolerate higher taxes and higher fares, Metro has immeasurable changed the city in ways that have been positive for some, but also devastating for others.
        – I’d be happy with longer trains running predictably at shorter intervals with later hours.
        – I’m in the anti-painting camp. I think it detracts from the architecture and that other lighting solutions should be fully explored and tested. I’m also imagining what poorly maintained swaths of formerly white paint will look like after a few months/years/decades.

  • MetroRider

    Why are they painting the acoustic panels??

    • FridayGirl

      I just wish they had painted them like Tetris block colors or something while they were at it….

  • Anonymous

    This isn’t new, as has been mentioned other stations are painted already. It’s getting close to a year since Potomac Ave was painted while it was shut down for SafeTrack, and it still looks good. I am totally in favor of this. The lower platform of Metro Center is roughly as bright as a dungeon, so any improvements that can be made in terms of paint and lighting are welcome.

    • olkndsmbtklr

      +1 The people who are getting themselves all worked up about this clearly don’t ride (at least some parts of) the system.

      • maxwell smart

        Or it’s people who appreciate Architecture and wish DC would do a better job at doing the same.

  • Reality

    100% hate this. Leave the concrete, it’s fine (and keeps to original design)

  • textdoc

    Bad move. They should’ve fixed the lighting, not painted the walls.

    • maxwell smart

      Right? This is the equivalent of putting a bucket under a leaky roof. Technically it keeps the water off the floor, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem. If you want to station to be brighter, maybe start at the source and replace/upgrade the lighting.

  • a.g.h.

    I right through union station every day and think this is a really terrible idea. adding lights would be much better in the long run, and brutalism (like it or not) is the signature style of the DC metro. it’s astonishing to me that WMATA did not think to check with anyone before starting this waste of resources.

    and despite the haters, it’s worth noting that raw brutalism can be amazingly beautiful – see metro center’s upper level or the national theater in London if you don’t believe me.

  • RJ

    It’s a primer coat peoples! Let’s just chill. You know what makes a really bad Metro experience? Dying due to smoke, a derailment or crash. Way bigger fish to fry.

    • maxwell smart

      Isn’t that exactly the point though? Shouldn’t WMATA spend it’s limited funds on things that actually improve the safety and reliability of the system – like on new trains, emergency systems, tunnel leaks, etc.? It’s a terrible PR move – complain about lack of funding, raise fares, and then spend hundreds of thousands of dollars painting something that didn’t really need to be painted.

      • RJ

        The argument that these funds should have gone to other more critical iniatives is a solid one but AIA’s complaint centers around the impact to the look of the station and maintenance.

  • Sue

    There are so many shades of white. Sadly, this one looks like a kitchen appliance.


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