The underground rapid transit system in the Swedish capital of Stockholm is relatively new, by international standards. With its first line having opened in 1950, it is a solid half century younger than the Paris Métro system (1900) or the New York City subway (1902). It is considerably younger still than the London Underground, the world’s first underground subway system, which began operation in 1863.
The Stockholm metro has some advantages in design that 50 (or 87) added years of technology and evolving design principles allowed. Today the system is more than a means of getting around the hip Scandinavian city; its stations are landmarks in and of themselves. The reason? The transit system is known as the world’s longest art exhibition.
There are 100 stations in the metro system across its 3 lines. Some 90 of those have been given the artistic treatment by a varied contingent of skilled artists over the years, beginning in 1957; even utilitarian stations built prior to this public arts initiative have been revisited and spruced up.
The stations have become beloved destinations for photographers and Instagramers, and these enchanting, colourful spaces feel quintessentially Scandinavian. Lore of the underworld has long permeated Northern Europe (“In The Hall of the Mountain King,” anyone?) and it feels wonderfully appropriate that these subterranean spaces have been treated as more than functional transit stops.
Take a look at some of the most beautiful stations in the system.
T-Centralen was the first station to feature artwork, opening in 1957 for traffic and then fully in 1975 once the blue line to Hjulsta was completed. According to Visit Stockholm, art guide Marie Andersson believes that the colour blue was chosen by artist Per Olof Ultvedt for its calming properties.
It is pure coincidence that this station features a rainbow while boasting proximity to Östermalms IP, the annual location for the Stockholm Pride Festival. The initial reason for this aesthetic choice was concern that the decision to create “cave stations” with rough ceilings and walls would induce anxiety and claustrophobia, and even become associated with the netherworld. Painting these walls in the colours of a sunny sky and bright rainbow was meant to combat this fear.
Unlike most stations, the artwork of Solna Centrum was political in its day. Its original colour scheme was a simple red and green, but artists Karl-Olov Björk and Anders Åberg wanted more. They improvised forest scenes, invoking a complex debate that raged in 1970s Sweden over logging and rural depopulation.
This station was built in 1952, but its artwork was a recent 2008 commission by Lars Arrhenius. The one stipulation was that the design must be tile work; this was a perfect fit for the artist, who drew inspiration from the station’s surroundings, which reminded him of different video game levels.
According to Marie Andersson, the 400 metres of LED-lighting at Citybanan-Odenplan, a piece titled “Life Line,” were a very personal work for artist David Svensson. The jagged shape of these fluorescent lines was inspired by the heartbeats of the artist’s son as depicted on a CTG-monitor during childbirth.
One of the metro’s most photographed stations, Kungsträdgården was inspired by one of Stockholm’s oldest public parks, the name of which translates roughly as “The King’s Garden.” Fun fact: this is the only place in Northern Europe where a cave-dwelling spider known as the Lessertia dentichelis can be found. How they arrived there is unknown, though it is speculated that they came on the equipment from Southern Europe when the station was being built.
Tekniska Högskolan is the official station of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology. The five regular polyhedra located along the platform are meant to represent Plato’s five elements: fire, water, air, earth, and ether.
The colourful tile work embedded in the bedrock of Mörby Centrum functions as an optical illusion; the visible colours change based on where on the platform the passenger stands. According to Andersson, artists Gösta Wessel and Karin Ek wanted to “emphasize the changing landscape on a journey, not only on the platform itself but more importantly from your starting point to your destination.”
Designed by Japanese artist Takashi Naraha, Solna Strand represents a ying-yang dynamic that can be found in much of his other work. The darkness of the cave-like station is sharply juxtaposed by the bright, heavenly cubes on the platform, walls, and ceiling.
Images via Visit Stockholm.