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The Architectural Spectacle That Is Munich's Metro

The Architectural Spectacle That Is Munich's Metro
Courtesy of Nick Frank

The Munich metro system, known as the U-Bahn, began running in 1971 in advance of the '72 Olympics. Over the years, its stations have evolved from a style that might be called simplistic and functional into one better described as curvaceous and kaleidoscopic. The design incorporates vivid color schemes, enamel and mosaic and glass panels, strong linear forms, even ceiling mirrors.

In a 1997 book about the Munich metro's unique architecture, Rolf Schirmer of the city's subway planning council argued that transit stations should "radiate a positive mood":

The use of artistic elements should help make a passenger's wait more pleasant, something that cannot generally be said of subterranean, mostly artificially lit, spaces. This already indicates what a subway station should not be: provocative, aggressive, dreary or oppressive.

Munich's stations certainly aren't dreary or oppressive (and if they're provocative or aggressive, it's in a good way). Nick Frank, an art director at an advertising outfit in Munich, recently captured the spectacle that is the city's metro system in a series of sharp, colorful, deserted photographs that are making the Internet rounds. We caught up with Frank to discuss the architecture of his architectural shots.

"At first I was wondering if it's possible to present a station just the way I wanted," he says. "Once I found out it works, I fell in love."

What inspired you to take pictures of Munich's subway station?

I am an art director working in advertising, and in my job I am trying to reduce until you see the essence of what I want to show. So basically I am removing distractions until you can focus some form of pureness. This is what I am doing with my subway shots. It is a challenge. Every station I know has prominent elements. It can be a sign, a stair, a colorful wall, lights, or the elevator.

You say you are now photographing more subway stations all over the world. What do you find attractive about them as a subject?

Subways connect locations. They allow us to spend time together. They bring you to work and back home. Subways are for everyone no matter what class or race. I find it really fascinating how the people on subways change throughout the day. From 5-7 a.m. you have the shift workers, cleanup staff and homeless people. From 7-8 you usually see pupils. From 8-9 there are all those business men and women. And from 10-12 you will see lots of students and retirees.

You made a very conscious decision not to show people in your Munich metro images. Why?

I don't want my viewers to get distracted by people in my pictures. It's about the location's pureness, form, lines, and shapes. I am not shooting a coverage or a certain moment. I want the viewer to get a feeling for location — what it would be like to stand there.

How did you make sure that no one got into the shots?

The trick is to shoot the stations early in the morning. This usually only works on Sundays, since no one is traveling to work. Most of my pictures were shot at around 6 or 7 am on a Sunday.

There's a sense of grandeur to these images. What type of overall impression are you trying to convey with your Munich shots?

You have to understand that it is not my goal to reproduce reality. What you see is always my personal interpretation. It is how I see things. There is a lot of work in those pictures. Some of them took me more then 10 hours to edit. Usually right in the moment I take the picture I know what the finished result will look like.

Some might argue that spending a lot to beautify subway stations is a waste of public money, while others might say the approach could attract more riders. What do you think?

Why not have beauty around you when spend so much time in a station waiting for that very next train to appear? It's also awareness for the city: some of those stations are famous throughout the world.

All images courtesy of Nick Frank.

Eric Jaffe is a contributing writer to The Atlantic Cities and the author of A Curious Madness (2014) and The King's Best Highway (2010). He lives in New York. All posts »

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