59th Street - Columbus Circle.
A sketch of the 59th Street - Columbus Circle station. Candy Chan

Subway stations’ complex tunnel systems are a mystery even to most regular riders. Architect Candy Chan’s new X-ray maps demystify the paths in and around them.

On the official map of the New York subway, each station is a tiny dot. But that representation obscures the labyrinth-like complexity of these structures, which can span two or more blocks and multiple levels. They contain walkways, escalators, tunnels, ramps, forming mazes that befuddle even the staunchest New Yorkers, let alone the troves of tourists exploring the city. Even when commuters navigate these stations successfully, they are likely coming out the other side in the wrong direction.

For these reasons and others, architect Candy Chan has felt “constantly lost” in New York. In Hong Kong, where she’s originally from, each exit is labeled with a letter and a number. And in the absence of such detailed signage in New York, she started thinking about what what stations actually looked like. In 2015, she started Project NYC Subwayan incredibly wonky, visual study of New York City’s most complex subway stations. Now, she’s added a new series of sketches of stations and their surroundings along Broadway. “At the beginning, my focus was on the station themselves, because I find it very disorienting to be in one of the bigger ones,”she says. “Once I had about 20-something stations done, I started to look at how they relate to the city.” Her new images contain tiny people and tall buildings for scale, as well as trees, sculptures, parks and squares—all of which “actually matter in the urban setting,”she says.

She hopes that her X-ray-esque images can help travelers navigate these concrete mazes more intuitively, and provide urbanists and city agencies with more information about how spaces are used. In the future, she hopes to add more details and expand her analysis to Brooklyn. And perhaps one day, she’d like to consolidate all her diagrams into an app: A digital atlas of subway nodes, of sorts. In the meantime, she’s pulling back the curtain on spaces that are very much a part of the commuting experience, but often not regarded as such.

42nd Street - Times Square. (Candy Chan)
34th Street - Herald Square. (Candy Chan)

23rd Street - Madison Square. (Candy Chan)
14th Street - Union Square. (Candy Chan)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A man walks by an abandoned home in Youngstown, Ohio
    Life

    How Some Shrinking Cities Are Still Prospering

    A study finds that some shrinking cities are prosperous areas with smaller, more-educated populations. But they also have greater levels of income inequality.

  2. A map of apartment searches in the U.S.
    Maps

    Where America’s Renters Want to Move Next

    A new report that tracks apartment searches between U.S. cities reveals the moving aspirations of a certain set of renters.

  3. A house with a for sale sign.
    Perspective

    Why Are Zoning Laws Defining What Constitutes a Family?

    It’s wrong to exclude safe uses of housing because of who belongs to a household. Like family law, zoning ordinances should prioritize functional families.

  4. Equity

    Why I Found My Community in a Starbucks

    I was reluctant to support a corporate chain. But in my neighborhood, it’s one of the only places I could have formed a relationship with someone like Sammy.

  5. A road is blocked by flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
    Environment

    Google Maps Wants to Help You Navigate During Natural Disasters

    The app will offer crisis navigation warnings and provide detailed visual information about hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.

×