Grand Central Terminal: A Study of Beauty and Meaning

John Stern

Reprinted from Vol. 99, Issue II of The Municipal Engineers Journal, “Grand Central Terminal: A Study of Beauty and Meaning” by John Stern provides us a very different view of Grand Central Terminal. The photographs contributed by Amy Dienes, including the photo on the journal’s cover, work hand-in-hand with this poetic and very introspective piece. “In Grand Central the personalities of tens of thousands of individuals mingle every day with the impersonality of geometry and space.”

The New York Subway: A Century

John Stern

Why do the subways of New York, so everyday and utilitarian, stir our imaginations, even as we may complain about them? John Stern always cared for the subways; thought there was something beautiful about them. Through his study of Aesthetic Realism, and of this principle, “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves,” he came to see why. The subways affect people because of the way they put together such opposites as rest and motion, surface and depth, personal and impersonal, the ordinary and the wonderful, dark and light, as they carry 4.9 million people every work day.

Rails to Recovery

James R. Amdal

Since the devastating hurricanes of 2005 (Katrina and Rita) the role of passenger rail projects has been subject to much debate in both south Louisiana and New Orleans. Rails to Recovery: The Role of Passenger Rail Transportation in Post Katrina New Orleans and Louisiana by James R. Amdal, Director, UNO Transportation Institute, describes this recent history using two proposed projects: a passenger train linking Baton Rouge and New Orleans; a series of new streetcar extensions being planned for the New Orleans Central Business District and adjoining neighborhoods. It puts both project’s development within the context of a post-Katrina environment.

The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway

Paul Shaw

There is a commonly held belief that Helvetica is the signage typeface of the New York City subway system, a belief reinforced by Helvetica, Gary Hustwit’s popular 2007 documentary about the typeface. But it is not true — or rather, it is only somewhat true. Helvetica is the official typeface of the MTA today, but it was not the typeface specified by Unimark International when it created a new signage system at the end of the 1960s. Why was Helvetica not chosen originally? What was chosen in its place? Why is Helvetica used now, and when did the changeover occur? To answer those questions this essay explores several important histories: of the New York City subway system, transportation signage in the 1960s, Unimark International and, of course, Helvetica. These four strands are woven together, over nine pages, to tell a story that ultimately transcends the simple issue of Helvetica and the subway. (Reprinted from the AIGA website, November 18, 2008.)