What lies beneath

What lies beneath

In a decade-long initiative to bring art to the mass populus, Naples Art Stations offer a unique insight into the functionality of surfacing as an art form, writes JoBeth Phillips.

To date, some 13 metro stations in Naples have been overhauled and redesigned by some of the world’s most prominent, contemporary designers and artists, who have been challenged with retaining the functionality of the metro stations – but without compromising on the aesthetic design of each station.

Under the artistic direction of Italian art critic, author and professor, Achille Bonto Oliva, both the interior and exteriors of selected stations have been entirely redesigned to offer a unique visual spectacular to its users.

Furthermore, over 180 works of art by 90 contemporary artists have been installed as part of the initiative, in a bid to create a “decentralised museum” which is spread across the entire city.

The installed art is designed to complement the interior and exterior designs conceived by world-renowned architects and designers, such as Karim Rashid, who designed the prestigious Università Metro station in 2011.

Joining the prestigious ranks of architects and designers that have been tasked with designing Naples’ Art Stations – which includes the aforementioned Karim Rashid, as well as Sol LeWitt, Anish Kapoor, Alessandro Mendini, and Gae Aulenti – is acclaimed Spanish architect, Oscar Tusquets Blanca.

“A particularly attractive feature of the project was the close collaboration with the prestigious fine artists who had been invited,” says Oscar.

For the 13,228m², brand new Toledo station on Linnea 1 (Line 1) – as well as the adjacent Montecalvario exit and pedestrian area – Oscar opted to create an opulent, respectable design which takes cues from Italian history, reinterpreted for a modern audience.

The project was challenging: at 38m below ground, each and every aspect of the installation had to be thoroughly planned – lest the subterranean location prove problematic.

An essential consideration was the connectivity between the street-level pedestrian areas surrounding the station to the central, subterranean hub of the metro. Here, Oscar opted to use skylights to invite light to the darker, below-ground levels – as well as serving to give a glimpse of what lies beneath to overground, passing travellers.

The first underground floor features stonework from the Spanish Aragonese period, which Oscar carefully integrated into the architectural design. Moreover, Neolithic stone, which was found during the excavations of the site, was repurposed and used as a central part of the wall design within yet another part of the station – Stazione Neapolis – which connects to the National Archaeological Museum.

These historical finds were a blessing for Oscar, who focused on creating a modern scheme, but most importantly, an abiding design, for the station. Respectful of local history, Oscar sought to incorporate as much of Naples’ heritage within the design – but without it becoming an overarching theme.

This axiom is no better exemplified than the design on the first level. As passengers move throughout the station, they will find dark, black hues dominating level 1. Oscar purposely opted for the film-noir atmosphere on this level, wherein early 20th century mosaic art by William Kentridge contrasts against the atmospheric, modern asphalt-coloured surfaces.

William Kentridge’s first mosaic comprises a long sequential piece of dark figures, inspired by the history of Naples. His second mosaic, located above the escalators, is entitled Remediation of the slums of Naples in relation to the railway station, 1884 (Naples Procession).

But again in deep contrast, when passengers continue down to another level, Oscar has implemented a brighter and more positive theme. Bright yellows and modern Neopolitan design have been executed – acting as an antidote to the more historic, darker first level.

Complementing the warm, neutral grey tones of the tiled floor and partial walls on this level, Oscar opted for accent colours in warm, pastel, earthy hues – making this level an inviting, modern space – while retaining a sense of the monolithic functionality of the station. 

The pièce de résistance of the project, though, is undoubtedly the main, underground metro level – level 0. Dazzling shades of thousands of blue Bisazza mosaics are the central design scheme, which transitions from lighter to darker, more intense blues, as passengers continue downwards. In fact, in homage to the ocean-like aspect of the mosaics, the level has been entitled Sea Level.

A vital, central design of the Sea Level is a striking ‘crater’, which connects it, the lowest level, with the ascending floors above. An intricate cone-shape was  conceived to cross all of the levels, at all depths – including the street level.

LED light wall panels designed by Robert Wilson have been installed to create an atmospheric environment. As natural daylight seeps in from the ground level, it creates a unique interplay between the artificial and genuine sunlight, designed to mimic ocean waves.

Like the majority of the station, each piece of art doubles up as a functional requirement for a modern metro station. The required functionality of the light is unquestionable – but Robert Wilson’s creative programming and design of the panels again helps to reinforce the architect’s vision for a glimpse of another world.

Further down the station, passengers are able to view more unique works of art that have been designed specifically for the project. These modern pieces are effortlessly combined with retro prints, which have been installed to further emit a sense of Naples’ heritage.

A prime example of this heritage is Men at Work, a series of photos by Achille Cevoli. Installed near to the station’s fixed stairs, the photo series is dedicated to the theme of factory work – a tribute to those who excavated the tunnels, and the construction of the stations.

In total, the Toledo station project took a good seven years to come to fruition. Each aspect of the metro station was thoroughly researched, with the connectivity and fluidity of the design schemes intstrumental to its functional success. The station, which was formerly unveiled in September 2012, has since received rapturous reviews for its intelligent design and its respect of the city and its history, whilst also combining modern, innovative features.

Featuring its shimmering mosaics, purveying an azure-esque/oceanic atmosphere, further accented with fine art supplied by William Kentridge, Bob Wilson and Achille Cevoli, it is no wonder that Toledo metro station has been declared “the most impressive underground railway station in Europe” by a popular UK newspaper.

But, most importantly, the metro station is entirely functional. As one of the main stations on Linnea 1 – and with hundreds of thousands of passengers relying on Naples’ metro system each year – the reliability and functionality of the materials selected for this project was imperative to avoid future closures for maintenance.

The practical benefits of the glass mosaics and stonework, which make up the large majority of the station’s surface coverings, are two-fold. Thanks to Oscar’s relatively timeless design, alongside the durability, ease of maintanence and natural aesthetics of tile and stone, Toledo metro station requires minimal effort to keep it as clean and elegant as it is today.

All of Naples Art Stations’ entrance floors, pedestrian areas, and surrounding piazzas may be visited free of charge. For the small price of a metro ticket, readers can see the full scope of Naples’ Art Stations, including its exclusive artworks.