Prague and San Francisco: On Communist vs Capitalist Modernism

In November 1973, a new subway station opened whose walls looked like this:

Bart powell tiles
Just six months later, on the other side of the Iron Curtain, a subway station opened whose walls looked like this:
Is there any essential difference between communist and capitalist modernism?

10 Responses to Prague and San Francisco: On Communist vs Capitalist Modernism

  1. Aaron M. Renn September 3, 2009 at 3:51 pm #

    Only that the Muzeum station looks better.
    Didn’t George Lucas film THX-1138 in the BART subway?

  2. Cap'n Transit September 3, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

    Dveřa se zaviraji!

  3. Alon Levy September 3, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

    Communist modernism is ugly and cheap. Capitalist modernism spends hundreds of millions of dollars paying top architects to design ugly stations.
    And yes, based on the pictures you show, the Prague station looks better.

  4. Mike September 4, 2009 at 1:54 am #

    How much of the cost is differential is related to the wealth differential? I know that its much more expensive to build a subway line in Manhattan the Bejing. I was shocked at how little it costs to build mass transit in South America.
    But a lot of those difference are probably because a lot of the construction costs are incurred by natives of the respective countries where labor costs are dramatically different.
    Was communist modernism ugly and cheap compared to Capitalist modernism because the communists were just much poorer?
    Second was the design/construction better in SF? Did a larger upfront expenditure result in lower subsequent maintence costs? Or were the additional costs superflous? Was the Czech line used more

  5. Jarrett at September 4, 2009 at 4:17 am #

    My intent was to note the similarity of the aesthetic, not to compare cost-related issues such as quality of construction, durability etc.
    In general, Eastern Bloc countries, like developing world countries, had lower resources but also lower construction and operation costs due to much cheaper labour.
    Another important comparison, I think, is that the BART system was designed with a high level of concern about look and feel. The Prague system, aimed at less discretionary riders, presumably cared less about this, but as a matter of civic image, if nothing else, they clearly cared some.

  6. J.D. Hammond September 4, 2009 at 7:37 am #

    Not really. And in both cases, glass curtain walls are supposed to represent a transparency, democracy, and openness that doesn’t actually exist.
    It’s particularly telling in Berlin, where the profiles of Alexanderplatz in the east and Zoo Station in the west are remarkably similar. The only readily apparent difference is the level of economic activity.

  7. Boris September 4, 2009 at 7:42 am #

    Capitalist modernism = expensive socialist labor (public sector unions and their vast political influence machines)
    Socialist modernism = cheap socialist labor (wage equality regardless of type of work or position, “to each according to his needs”, etc).

  8. J.D. Hammond September 4, 2009 at 8:04 am #

    Ironically, you could go to China and find cheap non-socialized labor, but you’d probably see the same aesthetic. A lot of modernist minimal or brutalist aesthetics are vague semiotic containers you can fill with pretty much any set of feel-good justifications.

  9. Alurin September 4, 2009 at 12:35 pm #

    Modernism is modernism, it doesn’t care who is paying. The original modernist architects had socialist ideals. It’s not so surprising to see modernism in a Western public works project. What’s really telling is how readily modernist designs were adopted for corporate headquarters and the like.

  10. Wad September 5, 2009 at 5:09 am #

    Ironic, because BART’s oldest stations feel very depressing and claustrophobic being inside them.
    OK, that’s not a fair comparison since I am in L.A. and we really went overboard in the design of our subway stations. I’m not expecting BART to rise up to that standard.
    But go to any of the Market Street stations and you’ll see generally dark and dingy platforms, hear the ominous rumblings of Muni Metro trains on another deck (the noise sounds reminiscent of an avalanche) and the Speak & Spell annunciation of the next trains coming, and feel boxed in with the low ceilings.