Stockholm claims its entire metro network is an art exhibition

Art at Stadion station by Enno Hallek and Åke Pallarp (1973). Image: Rachel Holdsworth.

Pub quiz time: what’s the world’s longest art gallery? No need to Google the length of the Louvre: Stockholm claims its entire metro network is actually an art exhibition.

Sure, Moscow’s subway system is architecturally stunning, but it’s not really art. But the vast majority of the 100 stations on Stockholm’s metro system contain works by one or more artists. The first were installed in 1957, just seven years after the first ‘proper’ subway line opened between Slussen and Hökarängen.

Which is lovely, of course, but also… why?

Part of it is Scandinavian egalitarianism, and a longstanding debate over making art accessible to your average Swede. But there’s also a wayfinding element: of making each station distinct from each other. This is very handy if you’re distracted, lost track of where you are and need to leap out: much better than craning to spot a sign on the Northern line.

To put it another way, there’s no way you’re going to not realise you’re at Solna Centrum.

Art by Karl-Olav Björk, Anders Åberg, 1975.

As with many public art projects, not all of it has aged well. The wavy neon stripes at Hötorget look like the 1980s swallowed the Arena opening titles and vomited them back out onto the station ceiling – which makes the fact it was installed in 1998 all the more perplexing.

Anyone else got Another Green World by Brian Eno as an earworm? Art by Gun Gordillo, 1998.

Similarly, the wayfinding principle isn’t always successful. For instance, at Sockenplan the art is a small-ish sculpture in the middle of the platform. Good luck spotting it if you’re at either end of the train.

These are, however, mere niggles. The Stockholm Metro is a delight to explore. You can download a guide and poke about yourself, or if you’re there in summer go on one of the free English language Art Walks offered several times a week. (Swedish speakers can do this year round.)

A few of the joys on offer...

If I lived in Stockholm I’d do my damndest to live near Tensta station, and start my morning commute waiting for the train by these penguins. Because penguins.

Art by Helga Henschen, 1975.

And a close-up of the walrus, in case you missed it. Every day should involve this walrus.

Look at its little face. Art by Helga Henschen, 1975.

There are more penguins at Aspudden. More penguins in Metro systems, please.

By now you’ve probably noticed a certain rocky appearance to the underground stations. During the 1970s, Stockholm decided to spray concrete over the dug-out station box instead of plain old cladding them. Not only was it cheaper, it gives this cool, cavern-like effect. It’s been put to rather good use at Tekniska Högskolan.

Art by Lennart Mörk, 1973.

This would be a cheery sight at Högdalen on a miserable, grey, freezing Scandinavian morning.

Art by Birgitta Muhr, 2002.

And in case you were wondering if there’s any, you know, real art in this system, here’s Östermalmtorg.

Art by Siri Derkert, 1965.

Above ground, there’s some serious retro action going on at Thorildsplan.

Art by Lars Arrhenius, 2008.

All photos courtesy of the author.


Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.