Shards of Fearsome Light (Olaias Metro station, Lisbon, Portugal)

It’s the third and last week of Daniel’s family photo show, and this time we’re going to have a look at one of the most outré metro stations it’s ever been my pleasure to visit. In the public transport hotspot of Lisbon, this…

Olaias metro station, Lisbon. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album
Olaias metro station, Lisbon. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album

…is Olaias station.

It’s on the Lisbon Metro’s Red Line, the most recently built. The Red Line opened in 1998, connecting Lisbon’s existing Metro lines (the first of which opened in the late 1950s) to the Expo ’98 site to the east of the city centre. It’s the same Expo which led to the building of the wonderful Estacao do Oriente, under which is a Red Line station. A few stops further in towards the city centre is Olaias.

Like several metro systems around the world, there is a strong focus on artworks and architecture at many of the Lisbon Metro stations. Olaias is just the one that arguably makes the greatest impact on the traveller. And what a disconcerting, discombobulating, hallucinatory impact it is. If you were trapped inside a giant kaleidoscope, then it would be just like being at Olaias station.

It’s not immediately obvious what sort of treat you’re in for when you approach the station entrance.

Station entrance, Olaias metro station, Lisbon. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album
Station entrance, Olaias metro station, Lisbon. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album

Like many buildings in Portugal, it is clad with decorative ceramic tiles. There is an abstract, multi-coloured pattern in evidence but it is muted.

Once inside the vast underground space occupied by the station, however, mutedness goes out of the window. Or at least it would do if there were any normal windows, but there aren’t, just a couple of stained glass ones at the platform ends. The huge, multi-level concourse is instead decorated with an abundance of glass panels, of many different colours. They are lit from behind so that they glow, bathing passengers in different coloured light. Most are on the ceiling, but there are also weird fish-shaped lamps hanging down into the concourse, and a lift shaft, all of them faced with coloured glass panels and illuminated from within.

Intermediate concourse, Olaias metro station, Lisbon. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album
Intermediate concourse, Olaias metro station, Lisbon. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album

As you move through the concourse, the kaleidoscope turns, colours and patterns shift around you, and the whole experience borders on the unreal. You’re Alice in a transport wonderland, the ultimate polychromatic riposte to the muted colours and raw concrete finishes of most modern metro stations. Those stations go for awe, Olaias instead reaches for oooh.

You know that nightmarish Harlequin figure who lurks at the edge of your darkest nightmares? Well, it’s been rendered into built form in the concourse at Olaias, a discomfiting experience provided by the public transport industry but also a truly great one.

Concourse, Olaias metro station, Lisbon. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album
Concourse, Olaias metro station, Lisbon. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album

Within the concourse areas, the glass panel ceiling is supported by sprays of struts fanning out from the tops of the columns, each strut a different colour. They’re yet another eye-boggling detail.

The platforms are within a cavernous train hall, where the multi-coloured madness has thankfully(?) receded to coloured wall and platform finishes. The shallow barrel vault roof is supported by chunky steampunk pillars with oversized rivet details. I was going to say riveting details, but the design of the whole place is pretty riveting.

Platform level, Olaias metro station, Lisbon. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album
Platform level, Olaias metro station, Lisbon. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album

It’s a bit of weird underground station, to be honest. Trains enter it from the east side by crossing high over the Chelas Valley on a tall viaduct (also treated with coloured panels), before they plunge into the station, which is in fact only just under the surface. On top of the station roof are several pitches belonging to a sports club. I wonder whether this is a permanent arrangement, because the enormous size of the pillars in the train hall beneath suggest they’re capable of supporting something rather more substantial than a few sports pitches. When you see supporting elements like this, there’s often a plan for an air-rights development over the station, with the sale of those rights helping pay for the station beneath.

Olaias’s extraordinary decorative scheme is the work of architect Tomás Taveira, while the coloured panelling on the viaduct over the Chelas Valley was designed by António Palolo.

Further Reading and Bibliography

Olaias station page at the website of Metro operator Transportes de Lisboa, here

Lots of photos of Olaias station at the website of its architect Tomas Taveira, here

History of the Lisbon Metro network, from operator Transportes de Lisboa, here

How to find Olaias metro station

Click here for the map

 

 

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