Antenna Design's People-Centric Approach to Public Systems Pays Off

The design duo behind New York City's subway cars and ticketing machines on how good design can create more civic behavior.

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In name, Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger are designers. But in practice, the two are evangelists, humbly spreading a gospel of evolving the urban experience through thoughtful, people-centric design.

"By making the public space--the public environment--beautiful, we can generate better and more civic behavior, and hopefully a better society," Udagawa explains. "It is our hope that design and architecture have the power to do that." It's a design philosophy inspired by The City Beautiful, an architecture and urban planning movement from the turn of the 20th century.

Consider, for example, the seven million people who ride New York City's gargantuan subway system on a daily basis. These riders, whether they're aware of it or not, have already been immersed in the duo's unique approach.

Antenna Design, Udagawa and Moeslinger's studio, overhauled the Metropolitan Transit Authority's fare collection machines back in 1999, installing an intuitive, color-coded interface that dispels any trepidation of new technology while simultaneously paving the way for cashless and non-contact interaction. And should you need knowledge or assistance while underground, Antenna recently debuted On the Go! Kiosks and Help Point Intercoms that streamline the process.

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Then there's the trains themselves. Antenna's designs for the interior and exterior of New York's R142 and R143 fleets are thoughtful from head (yes, literally--your subway car has a pleasant facial disposition) to toe, featuring a heavy emphasis on providing space. Curved poles provide optimal space for standing and holding on; a dark floor and light-colored walls create an illusion of expansiveness; cantilevered passenger seats allow the floor to be more easily cleaned; and electronic strip maps inform riders what the train's next stops are. When Udagawa and Moeslinger initially designed the stainless steel bars that protect passengers seated next to car doorways from theft, they placed the bars horizontally like a ladder. In subsequent tests however, they discovered that this subliminal design cue actually encouraged riders to climb the bars. Slanting the bars (left) was enough to discourage this behavior, proving the power of good design.

Even when you're leaving the subway, Antenna makes an impression -- at the new station house located on Broadway between 95th and 96th Streets, riders climbing to street level are greeted by Bloemendaal, an installation piece created by the firm that consists of stainless steel flowers suspended from the ceiling that change in appearance with motion, providing a brief respite from the hustle and bustle.

For their contributions, Udagawa and Moeslinger have been dubbed by the New York Observer as two of the most influential New Yorkers of the last quarter century, among other lofty plaudits. And with this sort of public recognition, their reach is spreading. Recently, Antenna designed the new cars for Washington, D.C.'s Metrorail, offering another city the chance to hear, see and feel the good word of city beautification.

Watch the full interview:

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