The New York Transit Museum is in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood and is a unique museum experience. It revolves around one New York City institution — the subway.
Take the steps down to a station where history comes alive through subway cars that reflect eras past, going all the way back to the turn of the century — the 20th century.
Architects of the New York City Subway:Heins & LaFarge and the Tradition of Great Public Works
George Lewis Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge were friends, MIT classmates, brothers-in-law, and business partners.
For 21 years, their architectural firm Heins & LaFarge undertook prestigious building commissions — both public and private — in the Northeast, including the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Astor Court buildings at the Bronx Zoo. But none would be more visible than their work on New York City’s first subway.
From 1901 to 1908, the firm designed the underground station interior, elevated stations, control houses, and entry kiosks for the Interborough Rapid Transit Company — or IRT — subway.Like many public works, the first concern in building the subway was function, but aesthetics were also important. The original IRT contract specified that the subway embody attractive design, even “beauty.”
Heins & LaFarge brought a strong Beaux-Arts sensibility to the subway. This style — popular in both the United States and Europe — stressed classical influences. To this end, Greek and Roman architectural motifs and materials were incorporated into this most modern of projects. With strict limits of space, budget, and time, Heins & LaFarge made a simple and versatile element — color — the centerpiece of the firm’s work.
Using colorful ceramics, the architects satisfied the IRT contract’s insistence that the stations be bright and cheerful, while giving each one a distinctive look. Though Heins & LaFarge designed less than fifteen percent of the stations in use today, their impact on the New York City subway is unmistakable. Their stations in the city’s “great public work” are stunning examples of Beaux-Arts architecture and design, setting the standard for decades of subway architects to come.