Glen Park BART Station
At a BART event in August 2009 BART director Tom Radulovich said, “Glen Park BART station is the crown jewel in the system.”
I wondered why and set out to discover the answer. To do so I needed to learn about all the stations. In particular I needed to study Glen Park station. This is what I learned.
The BART system was planned in the 1950s and designed in the 1960s. The stations opened in the early 70s. It and Washington DC Metro were the first two systems in the nation and being pioneers of municipal transportation they had to make up their own rules. BART’s approach of employing different architects to design stations resulted in the variety of architecture that is absent in the DC system.
Different architects had different ideas for the design of stations. As with all things artistic some designs have worn better than others. Unlike other art forms, or even other architectural forms, BART stations have had to endure the test of time both aesthetically and physically. Glen Park station has passed both tests.
The station takes basic components of a station (platform, concourse, superstructure, surroundings and the means to get from one to the other) and translates them into a story about the BART system and its construction that relates to the building of monuments that have characterized human aspiration throughout time.
At the platform level, one of the deepest platforms in the system, jagged stone blocks cover the retaining walls. They are stacked like engaged columns that reinforce the feeling of being in a manmade underground tunnel. The roughness of the blocks suggests that the tunnel has been carved out of the solid rock within the earth’s core. Yet the place is not claustrophobic or oppressive. The stacked blocks lead the eyes upward where there is light and air. The roughness of the blocks is neutralized by the use of polished slabs of marble and granite for vertical cores and benches.
In the transition from platform to concourse the station’s walls shed their stone blocks to reveal rough-hewn concrete. The roughness of the concrete recalls the most basic and monumental of construction types. Vertical striations in the concrete reinforce the direction from the tunnel below to the street and sky above.
At the concourse level, one of the most compact in the system, the treatment of the surrounding walls and the use of a glass roof create the feeling of being in a monumental vestibule or, perhaps, the ruin of an ancient temple. The rough-hewn concrete walls continue to this level and characterize the exterior of the superstructure. But within the concourse are over 100 panels of polished marble that embellish the walls. They enrich the room with a finish that contrasts with the rough walls below. Yet they also complement each other; the stone blocks, the rough concrete and the polished marble are different expressions for the same element.
The use of different finishes enriches the experience of going from the platform to the concourse —from the earth’s core along rough walls to the refined room at the top. Capping the concourse with a glass roof highlights the experience of moving from the underground to the light and air above and back again.
From a distance the station appears to emerge from the BART system below. Its emphasis on vertical transformation acknowledges that the vast underground network is the core of the system and the station is merely one entry point. Design and finishes together support the theme of the station rising from the rails and platform up to the concourse and street, its perimeter walls like shards of concrete pushed upward through the earth.
The excellent design of Glen Park station secures its place in the history of architecture, however it is the use of durable and refined materials that insures that it will appeal to future generations. Based on my experiences I found the station to be an architectural achievement and agree that it is the crown jewel in the BART system.