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Design in Transit: Public Transportation Never Looked So Good

Camille LeFevre

“50th Street Station, Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle”

Artwork abounds at the 50th Street station, designed by Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Minneapolis, local artist Karen Wirth, and others. Perched at the edge of Minnehaha Park, the station reflects the bucolic neighborhood setting, and its natural and cultural history, through a silver-metal “hedge” in which a fretwork of picket fences, leaves and branches, and wagon-wheel shapes overlap (by artist Deborah Mersky); in words from Native American stories clustered together in the shapes of tree trunks on the shelters’ glass panels (Joann Verberg); in the finely detailed etched metal plates-embedded in the brick walkways-that depict such local fauna as American toads, pumpkin sunfish, and crows (Greg LeFevre); and in the structure of the station as well.

A row of steel columns, placed in slightly staggered positions rather than in a straight line, gradually branch into tree-like supports for the glass (or “tree” canopy, until the structure itself leaves off and a row of real trees takes over. “This approach alludes to a transformation from city to nature,” explains Garth Rockcastle, FAIA, principal, “as it moves from architecture to landscape architecture.”

MS&R also designed the two stations before (or after, depending on the direction of travel) 50th Street. “We were the only team that had three consecutive stations,” Wirth explains, “and we approached the project as if the three were a unit. Travelers move sequentially through each station, so we wanted a visual relationship among them.” The 38th Street stop is a single-platform station designed with soffit and eave details, layers of roofing over entrances, and a horizontal “porch” to reflect the Craftsman bungalows so well known in this neighborhood.

The platform at the 46th Street station is split, as the station is sited at a crossroads between St. Paul and Minneapolis where grain was once transported between mills and markets. Echoing the roofs of neighborhood houses and the simple roofs of a farmers’ market, the transit shelters are structured to double as weekend market stalls.

The platform at the 50th Street station is split and the sections placed kitty-corner to each other. “We wanted all of our stations to have a presence from various vantage points, so what you see from the road or the train or platform provides different levels of reading and experience,” Wirth says.

Meetings with neighborhood constituencies provided input and insight in the form of historic documents, original photography, and written materials, which “informed our early thoughts about how to use text at the stations,” Rockcastle says. For her part, Wirth says she “approached all of these stations as if they were site-specific sculpture, so each station would reflect not only what the neighborhood asked for, but convey a history, a mood, and a feeling about the people who have lived here in the past and now live here.”

Architecture Minnesota Magazine
Vol. 31 No. 1, January/February 2005