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Monorails on Parade

Yesterday, I blogged about Seattle's forthcoming monorail. I've been thinking about one of the comments in the source article:

[Architect Don Miles of monorail consultant Zimmer Gunsul Frasca (ZGF)] said the monorail could complement the [Seattle Art Museum] because visitors could look out through tall atrium windows at the moving trains.
Why not take this idea and run with it, making the monorail trains themselves actual works of art? Think of the tail art scheme launched by British Airways a few years ago (now abandoned for political reasons), in which the tails of their aircraft were designed by a variety of artists from around the world:

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(Images found here.)

Imagine this sort of scheme applied to monorail trains, with each train designed by a different Seattle-area artist. To build public support, a process similar to Pigs on Parade could be held, in which artists would submit concept drawings, a hundred or more winners would be provided with scale model monorail trains (say, one to two meters in length), and then the resulting decorated scale models would be put on display around the city. At the end of the display period, a public vote could be held to determine the top choices, which would become official. (Alternately, the public could vote to make recommendations, with a design commission making the final decision.) As with Pigs on Parade, the trains would then be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to charity (Pigs on Parade raised over $500,000).

Not only would this generate some great art, it would get the public involved in the process as well, and give everyone something to focus on while the monorail is being built.

Seattle Monorail Project, you're welcome. I won't even charge you royalties for my idea.


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"monorail.. monorail.. monorail.. " sounds like a Simpsons episode. Hey, do you get mail notification for comments? I left you one on an old article I found:


Yes, I do receive e-mail notifications for comments, and yes, I responded to your earlier comment. Thanks for visiting!

As the monorail supports show, good industrial design is its own art form.


The private rr's in Tokyo occasionall allowed advertisers to dress up a train or two. The "change-up" isn't worth the cognitive load that the differences imparted -- routine things in life should remain routinely designed.

Same thing with the advertising bus wraps ...


these are an aesthetic abomination, note the "Back Attack" rate in the page above.

Troy, do you have any evidence for your "cognitive load" comment, or is it just a personal belief? Because I've looked again and again at the photos of how the monorail would look, imagined a highly decorated train passing by every 2 to 4 minutes (that's one train in each direction every 4 to 8 minutes), and for the life of me, I can't see a problem with it -- in fact, every time I think about it, I think how attractive it would be.

With a peak time train interval of 4 minutes, and 32 minutes end-to-end travel time for the monorail line in each direction, that's 16 trains to cover the system. I presume the monorail would have at least 4 spares, and possibly more, so we'd be looking at 20+ distinct designs.

Imagine an office worker with a view of the line. With 20 designs at an average of 6-minute intervals, that means the same design won't pass by more often than once every two hours. Assuming that the worker is actually working and can't be constantly looking out the window, and sees perhaps one out of every two trains that pass by, he or she would see each train twice a day, for a few seconds each time. That doesn't sound like "cognitive load" to me -- it sounds like adding brief glimpses of art to people's daily existence.

Finally, note that the example you cite is for advertising. I'm talking about artwork. I'm sure you would agree there's a significant difference between the two.

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