Subway car interior

I lived in New York for a few months in 1965, when people were afraid to stand on a station platform alone, or board a train without protection from friends, and there was a police officer in every car. What a contrast from this week, when I rode the Lexington Avenue Express downtown to attend a talk by Masamichi Udagawa. The new cars were clean and well designed. The information signage and announcements were clear and comprehensible, and there was no sign of nervousness among the passengers about potential dangers. It’s admittedly only a work in progress, as many of the other lines still seem like the bad old days.

Masamichi Udagawa & Sigi Moeslinger

Much of the credit for the design improvements goes to Masamichi and his partner Sigi Moeslinger, founders of Antenna, who have been working with MTA/New York City Transit since the mid nineties, designing ticket and MetroCard vending machines, subway cars, the first of which has been in service since 2000, and more recently the Help Point Intercom. As Masamichi described the work, I appreciated the depth of research and understanding that informs the designs, with solutions that are uniquely for New York, necessarily different from San Francisco, Tokyo or London.

Photograph of a 2-story glowing, lantern-like blue cylinder with pink cherry blossoms inside next to the dimly lit paneled wood staircase of Cooper Hewitt’s front hall. A blurry image of a person walks up staircase at mid-height of the cylinder, and diffused rose-colored light glows through a window on the visible second story.
Cherry Blossom installation

Antenna has a design practice that at first glance seems surprisingly diverse, ranging from public infrastructure like MTA, through product design for high tech companies, to installations that are closer to art than design. This spread gives balance and richness to their work, with one end of the spectrum inspiring the other. In May they will be installing a permanent piece in the renovated subway station at 96th and Broadway, presenting a layered series of stainless steels scrims. Back in 2003 they designed a delectable piece at the Cooper-Hewitt for the National Design Triennial. It was called Cherry Blossom, interactively celebrating the movement of people up and down the main staircase with swirling blossoms. ‘Tis that season again!

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