Gorgeous photos of Montreal’s Metro stations by Chris Forsyth.

This City’s Subway Stations Have Surprisingly Stunning Architecture and Design

This City’s Subway Stations Have Surprisingly Stunning Architecture and Design

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
Oct. 23 2015 9:09 AM

The Unexpected Beauty of Montreal’s Metro Stations      

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Lasalle station. “Lasalle’s platforms, although very dimly lit, are full of vibrant reds, purples, and teals, contrasted with cement walls and cold metal benches,” Forsyth says.

Courtesy of Chris Forsyth

Montreal’s Metro was inaugurated nearly 50 years ago by then–Mayor Jean Drapeau, who held a competition challenging architects to individually design its 26 (now 68) stations. A testament to modernist architecture, the underground stations are embellished with more than 100 works of public art that include murals, sculpture, and stained glass.

Last year, a 20-year-old student photographer named Chris Forsyth decided to celebrate the beauty of the Montreal Metro with a series of graphic, well-composed photos posted on Instagram.

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Sherbrooke station.

Courtesy of Chris Forsyth

Forsyth’s project began as a class assignment asking students to explore genres of photography that they hoped to pursue professionally. “Taking the Metro daily for years I had always wanted to do a Metro-related project,” Forsyth told me in an email. “It’s so easy to jump from station to station, and with each stop having its own unique design and feel, there’s just so much to see!”

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Plamondon station. “Seeing spaces in a new, fresh way can be difficult,” Forsyth says. “Looking for bold colours and graphic shapes can help make for strong images in less inspiring locations.”

Courtesy of Chris Forsyth

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Champ-de-Mars station. “Much of Montreal’s Metro system never sees the light of day,” Forsyth says, “but Champ-de-Mars’ stained glass windows on ground level let light all the way down its tracks.”

Courtesy of Chris Forsyth

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Forsyth said that he wanted to create the series to remind rushed commuters that there is often overlooked beauty in their midst.

“If you ask someone what they think of the Montreal Metro system,” he said, “they’ll mention how packed the stations are and all the delays in service.”

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Sherbrooke station. “Using people to add a sense of scale can be crucial,” Forsyth says.

Courtesy of Chris Forsyth

Forsyth’s photos of deserted stations, often punctuated with long-exposure blurs of the signature blue train cars, are devoid of harried commuter mobs, a choice that was reinforced by Quebec’s laws against publishing photographs of private people in public without their consent.

“My objective is to highlight the beauty of the architecture and design, and with so many people in the Metros it’s difficult to find a balance between people as compositional elements and clutter,” Forsyth said. “Because of Quebec’s laws against photographing other [people] in public, I choose to not photograph others generally just to avoid disruption.”

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“De La Savane is the very first station I photographed for the series,” Forsyth says. “I was drawn to the texture of the cement and the graphic qualities of the dome lights.”

Courtesy of Chris Forsyth

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Berri-UQAM station. “Recently renovated, Berri-UQAM’s yellow-line platforms look better than ever,” Forsyth says. “The yellow line was constructed under the Saint Lawrence river passing through Notre Dame Island, a man-made island constructed from the excavated stone from the construction of the Metro tunnels.”

Courtesy of Chris Forsyth

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Forsyth said he tries to wait until the station he wants to shoot is empty, usually the moment when a train leaves and all its passengers exit the platform. “If it’s too busy and waiting 20+ minutes is the only option, I’ll try to shoot for a composite,” he said, allowing him to combine empty spots from a series of shots to block out the human element. (Some photos include blurred motion or otherwise unidentifiable people in order to provide perspective on the scale of the architecture.) He also removes ads from the scenery and brightens up dim station lighting by using long exposures that make the photographs more vibrant.

I was younger than Forsyth the last time I visited Montreal, but some of the photos of the city’s underground almost look too beautiful to be true.

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Lionel-Groulx station. “Split-level tunnels are used for intersecting stations, and they also offer a great view,” Forsyth says.

Courtesy of Chris Forsyth

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Assomption station. “Part of appreciating spaces is taking the time to look up, down, and around,” Forsyth says.

Courtesy of Chris Forsyth

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Laurier station. “When photographing Metros I try to avoid advertising,” Forsyth says, “and thankfully I caught this station on a day in between ads.”

Courtesy of Chris Forsyth

Forsyth isn’t the first to document the beauty of the Montreal Metro. But on Instagram, where everything old is new, a community of Metro-loving photographers have added their own photos under the hashtag #mtlmetroproject.

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Jean-Talon station. “Jean-Talon uses color-coded floors to help commuters navigate the multilevel intersecting station (blue floors for the blue line, orange for the orange line),” Forsyth says.

Courtesy of Chris Forsyth

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De L’Église Metro Station in Montreal. “Using long exposures to blur escalators transforms them into abstract metal slides,” Forsyth says, “but due to the context you still understand clearly what it is.”

Courtesy of Chris Forsyth

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.