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Seattle Artist Lights Up UW Rail Station

Mark Woods Photography
Artist Leo Berk stands in the University of Washington Link Light Rail Station. Berk's "Subterranium" is in the background.

Two eagerly-awaited light rail stations open in Seattle on Saturday: one on Capitol Hill and the other at the University of Washington. This is the biggest game-changer in Seattle transportation for quite some time.

One of the first things you notice about the new stations is the art. At the UW Station, the art is intended to help get you acclimated on your journey underground.

To get to the train platform, you travel 95 feet down. You realize how far under the surface you are when you look up from the bottom of a very long escalator. 

“I think one of the interesting things about underground stations is that you really suddenly lose orientation and not know which way is which,” said Leo Berk, the artist who created the work inside "The Chamber, " the cavernous space that encases the escalators leading to and from the train platform at the University of Washington Station.

As you descend into the depths of the station, you pass layers of deep blue, back-lit, perforated aluminum panels that look like a planetarium of the underworld.

"I used the geo-technical map for the dig, to create an actual representation of the geology, the dirt that was here,” he explained.

The cut-out shapes in the panels portray the different bands of soil that were tunneled through to get to Capitol Hill. 

"I just liked the hatch patterns and the way that those people have to illustrate what’s happening and I decided I would make up my own lexicon of patterns,” Berk said. 

Berk also made up his own language to describe the installation. He calls it “Subterranium.” As he worked on it, the massive scale of the piece made it difficult to for people to relate to.

"And when I was designing it and working on it and trying to think about what it would be like in here, that was also hard to do, but it’s really satisfying to finally see,” he said. 

For those waiting for light rail, it’s sometimes felt like a lifetime. Leo Berk thinks about it in similar terms. He marvels that his eight-year-old daughter wasn’t born yet when he began “Subterranium.”