5/24/10

BART BA Subway - Now arriving at future.

Postcard at antique stores can be just stupid expensive. I have five bucks on me, but I'm not handing it over in exchange for an old postcard. This one was 25¢, and good thing, because I may have paid as much as $2 if they pushed me (where "they" is the paper sign on the shoebox in which they were cleverly displayed.). Behold, the subway of the future!
Man, that's a cool looking train. It has two things I look for in public service / institutional engineering: molded white plastic, asymmetry, and geometric angles. I know that's three, but I threw in an extra thing I look for because you have an honest face.

I had to look up what "BART BA" stands for. It's an acronym for "Bay Area Rapid Transit" and the extra "BA" may have been a typo, or maybe it's a bonus at no extra charge because the logo guy thought you have an honest face, or maybe because it was 1978 and most of California wasn't thinking too straight because everyone was hopped up on herpes medication. The picture shows the Lake Merritt train station in Oakland, which is home to a lake that combines salt and fresh water. I didn't know there were and lakes like that, but I don't spend lots of time thinking about lakes in that way. If I did think about it, I'd guess that if one combined salt and fresh water, you'd have a slightly more diluted batch of salt water. I dunno. Maybe the density of one or the other makes one float on the other. Who cares? I should cut that part out before I post this. It's really off-topic. I'll leave a note for the editorial staff.

Okay, the train. It has that futuristic look that  people in the seventies liked. The TV show Space 1999 had it. Curvy biomorphic chairs are set against chunky geometric walls. It's the aesthetic of a clean, simplified future designed by Abba and made from vaccuformed white PVC. It's the future in which you can still smell the recently-removed shrink wrap. For further examples see Star Wars (The first three movies. The only ones worth watching.).

The train driver's window is off to one side because... err, I'm not sure why, but it probably has something to do with it being a train, and the driver only has to make the thing stop and go. He's not steering it like a car. Asymmetry implies the idea of function taking precedence over form. Engineering over style. This is a kind of purity and elegance whose polar opposite can be found in the ornamental styles of everything from classical Greece to early American colonial design.People instinctively like things lined up in a row, and centered with each other. Going against this fundamental desire implies that "it doesn't need to be centered, so it won't be." I think that mentally, this slight dissonance is intriguing and satisfies in the same way that spicy food is really good despite a light tingle of pain.

The Nissan Cube takes the whole industrial asymmetry thing and does it backwards. The rear window on the Cube is asymmetrical, but that's only the glass. If you look at the corner where the glass wraps around, you can see the drivers' side c-pillar behind the glass, whereas the passenger side c-pillar is visible on the outside. This is interesting because asymmetry implies function over form, but the Nissan would have been easier to manufacture with a more conventional balanced look.The asymmetrical glass is a styling choice that hides the actual symmetry of the structure. I'd rather they made the car truly asymmetrical, with an unobstructed corner window, but that would have sent costs up and made it hard to meet safety requirements.

Throw in some bold, simple graphics on the train and some big planes of orange and white in the train station and you're ready to rattle off into the bell-bottomed, blow-dried future where Dabney Coleman waits for his train down to L.A. to catch a table read for North Dallas Forty. Personally, the movie I remember him for is WarGames from 1984, where he plays Dr. McKittrick, but that film probably wasn't in pre-pro until 1979. Wait. Maybe Coleman was riding this train into the future to make the WarGames table read? That's what I'd do.

1 comments:

craig f. said...

All that stuff's straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It looked like Stanley Kubrick did all of his prop shopping at the Apple store.

It's funny that you simultaneously got this pure white, vacuum formed plastic spacey-sciency design right alongside the turd brown, mud-sex, pseudo Sergio Leone soundstage crap you referenced last week.

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