Amtrak’s 30th Street Station now glows like the cathedral it wants to be

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The 50-foot-tall windows that illuminate the grand hall of William Gray 30th Street Station in Philadelphia have been covered with translucent panels that bathe the waiting area in a soft color.

Called “Euphonic and Chromatic Drift,” Philadelphia artist Adam Crawford has drawn outside the lines of the station’s window pane grid, designing an abstract pattern of graphics that repeat and spiral by their own logic.

Adam Crawford poses at a railing. Behind him is the 30th Street Station main area with his artwork of rainbow-coloured vinyl on the huge windows at the front.
Visual artist Adam Crawford created ‘’Euphonic & Chromatic Drift’’ to echo the flow and rhythm of 30th Street Station. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“I like to think of it as a contemporary cathedral, in an agnostic way,” said Amtrak curator Debra Simon, who commissioned Crawford to design this site-specific window mural for the historic Art Deco building.

“I’m not trying to fight it or overwhelm it,” she said. “I’m trying to complement the amazing architecture: The height, the span.”

“Euphonic” is the latest installation by Art at Amtrak, a system-wide railroad initiative that began last year to bring artwork into train stations, particularly along the busy Northeast Corridor. So far, there are installations at Penn Station in New York, Union Station in Washington, D.C., and now Philadelphia.

A view from above of ‘’Euphonic & Chromatic Drift,” a mural in translucent vinyl, covers the soaring windows at the east and west ends of the 30th Street Station main concourse
‘’Euphonic & Chromatic Drift,” a mural in translucent vinyl, covers the soaring windows at the east and west ends of the 30th Street Station main concourse. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

30th Street Station is an architecturally protected building, on the National Register of Historic Places, which makes it difficult to alter the space to accommodate an art installation. That is why Simon settled on the windows: the installation of vinyl panels adhered to glass is temporary, leaving no impact on the building.

Each installation hired an artist local to that station, to make a piece that responds to the station. All are temporary, and rotating, after about 6 months a new piece will take the place of the predecessor.

Panels of different colors are visible in the windows at Amtrak 30th Street Station. In the foreground is the train departure and arrival information board.
Each of the two translucent vinyl murals installed at 30th Street Station is made up of more than 100 panels, according to artist Adam Crawford, who created ‘’Euphonic and Chromatic Drift’’ for the Art for Amtrak program. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“We want to increase ridership on all of our lines: on the Northeast Corridor and also system-wide, our national network,” said Sharon Tepper, director of Art at Amtrak. “We really want to inspire curiosity and ideas and hope, and just new experiences every time someone walks through a station. That’s why we established this as a rotating program.”

30th Street Station is the 3rd busiest train station in the U.S. Every day approximately 12,000 people move through its grand hall.

A woman waits for a train. Behind her is the artwork in the windows that is the latest addition to Amtrak 30th Street Station.
Adam Crawford’s ‘’’Euphonic & Chromatic Drift’’ was installed at 30th Street Station as part of the nationwide Art at Amtrak program. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Crawford, the artist, has been painting murals around Philadelphia for several years. His work can be seen at the Cherry Street pier and on the Union Transfer and Fillmore concert halls.

He said that rather than responding to the formidable architecture of 30th Street station, he was reacting to how it sounds: the hum of shuffling footsteps, suitcase wheels, incoherent traces of conversation, train announcements, and the deeply echoing acoustics generated by the cavernous space.

Colored vinyl in the windows of the train station
‘’Euphonic & Chromatic Drift,” a mural in translucent vinyl, covers the soaring windows at the east and west ends of the 30th Street Station main concourse. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“The sound of people, and the flow of people going in and out, a lot of the atmosphere here is the echoing of people doing their everyday transient stuff,” Crawford said. “I think of sound a lot.”

When he is not designing graphics and art, Crawford said he spends time composing soundscapes. His abstract windows can be read as visualizing noise.

A close-up of two columns and colored panels behind them.
Each of the two translucent vinyl murals installed at 30th Street Station is made up of more than 100 panels, according to artist Adam Crawford, who created ‘’Euphonic and Chromatic Drift’’ for the Art for Amtrak program. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“There’s a sort of flow and harmony to the colors,” he said. “If you were to think of sound and frequency: low sound, like bass, and then the higher colors like yellow is a higher frequency. There’s a rhythm of where those are placed as your eye travels.”

A view from below of the soaring columns and windows with vinyl panels displayed in the window.
Each of the two translucent vinyl murals installed at 30th Street Station is made up of more than 100 panels, according to artist Adam Crawford, who created ‘’Euphonic and Chromatic Drift’’ for the Art for Amtrak program. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

During Euphonic’s approximately six months life span, Simon the curator plans to program performances in the space, related to the window panels. Nothing is scheduled yet, but she said she wants to commission a local dance company to make a site-specific work.

A statue and art installation in the windows of the train station are visible
Adam Crawford’s ‘’’Euphonic & Chromatic Drift’’ was installed at 30th Street Station as part of the nationwide Art at Amtrak program. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Looking up at the western-facing windows, there are catwalks behind the glass sometimes used by train station workers; their silhouettes show against the colored panels. Simon envisions dancers performing a shadow play inside the cathedral-like windows.

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