Theory / Riding the wormhole: time in the architecture of the metro

Riding the wormhole: Time in the architecture of the metro. 

Originally published in Archidio magazine october 2015


All architectures have a relationship with time as they do with space. However, in the metro time is so predominant that we could say, if such thing was possible, that the metro is primarily an architecture of time – space being a consequence rather than a purpose. This is especially obvious when considering the metro, which we will later do, as temporal solution to the temporal problem of the city above it. Time in the metro appears then not only specific in itself, but also specific by its profound impact on the time of the city.

Unpredictability of the city

Citizens, by their actions and paths, produce events, and so does the city’s space, constantly evolving as buildings are built or teared down, streets are free or jammed, shops are open or closed. Those events, whether human or urban, influence and react to each other: urban reacts to urban, human to human, human to urban and urban to human, in a relationship that could be compared to Deuleuze and Guattari’s concept of rhizome: it is “acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automaton, defined solely by a circulation of states1”, as opposed to the “tree”, an arborescent system where points originate logically one from the other on a visible structure.

If we consider, in a very broad definition, that human perceive time as relationships between events2, the temporality of the city, made of those rhizome-relationships, is too complex to be grasped, anticipated and controlled. A city is like small piece of clay molded by ten hands, all bustling over each other, pushing fingers as much as dirt, undoing what others have done – and in the end there is never any clear shape but that of unpredictable disorder.

Unpredictability is a major characteristic of the city’s temporality and is now, after the fall of deterministic modernist models, accepted by urban planners even as part of the city’s functions3: we expect from a city to be unpredictable because from its disorder emerge opportunities, encounters, escapes from boredom and solitude – unless you are one of those who likes to find solitude among an anonymous crowd.
But as it regulates most urban aspects, unpredictability will also influence the traffic: trips from one place to another are difficult to control in both duration and quality, and congestion therefore never totally avoidable.

The metro addresses that specific problem. It is obviously a fast, underground system, which physically avoids the city so that it has no obstacle but the human fret it loads and unloads every two minutes. But as the crowd fills the metro hallways it brings along the unpredictability from above: the metro architecture has to develop strategies to suppress this tendency and replace it with a different – and perhaps conflicting – kind of temporality.

Permanence of the metro

The unique contact between the metro and the city is where the gate emerges out of the sidewalk, as the tiny extremity of an enormous hidden object. Going down the escalators, down into the ground from one world to another, we change our behavior. We hold the handrail, in line with the crowd, at a regulated speed. We then stand in line when passing, beep – beep!, the ticket gate, and in line again when waiting for the metro, following the marks painted on the platform. In between those steps we find ourselves speeding in large hallways that are oversized for our bodies, but wide enough to contain the rush-hour crowd. No collisions, no jamming, no nothing: this is the reduction of paths to an efficient and predictable flow.

While above the public space is used for almost every human activities – moving, communicating, eating, drinking, observing, sleeping,… – we find the metro hallways all the more large as they are empty of most of these. Chairs and benches are too rare for us to stop and rest. Food and drinks are prohibited, and the places associated with it, so important in the city streets, are absent. Function of the metro public space is reduced to that of moving, passing by. The metro is the means, never the end.

This reduction of function leads to a reduction of social events: if there is nothing to buy or to do, there is less to talk about with strangers. Aside from its actions, it is the composition of the crowd itself that is controlled: the electronic metro card allows a precise monitoring of our entries/exits, and the price of the ticket (two or three times a bus ride) supported by the well-guarded gates are powerful filters that will guarantee a certain homogeneity of the metro population.

Finally, the visual environment, so prolific and heterogenic in Taipei, fades as soon as passing the first escalator. Most stations share the same white, clean, straightforward aesthetic; a result from both their functional homogeneity, and perhaps the need to express the coherence of a large architectural ensemble. A coherence which is only permitted by the relative youth of a network that opened its first line in 1996. Signs therefore serve as the only differentiators between the stations, with a simple primary color code, and English-Chinese names. They also serve as direct mediators between the metro entity and its users: aside from making sure we are on the right path, many texts, videos and recordings will tell us not to eat, drink or chew-gum, not to talk to loudly on the phone, or how protect ourselves if someone tries to stab us.

Station plans are provided at the entrance of each metro station, precisely defining for the user the place and time of the following events.

So the metro is not only physically fast, but by operating a reduction of paths, functions, social encounters and visual forms, it reduces the amounts of events, and unpredictability that emerges from these events. The metro is fast, and reliably so. With such an efficient control of its own temporality the metro is indeed the architecture of time we mentioned earlier. But what is that time made of?

Without the unpredictability from above, it seems that all events left are not only trivial in themselves, but also trivial in their similarity over time and place. It is not simply that the metro is predictable: many types of architecture have predictable temporalities and are still charged with powerful meaning. Temples, for example, sheltering rituals: it is precisely by being played out in a predictable way at a predictable moment that rituals take all their importance. As walls secure us from endless space, programmed cyclic events secure us from the endless of time.

Here however, there is always white walls, always escalators, always normal people, and most of all, there is always a metro coming. No need to check a schedule, to program a departure in time. Metro trips are sequences made of similar events that happen at a similarly undetermined moment. Indistinguishable from each other, happening anytime, all the time, they are not even themselves events. The architecture of the metro is not predictable because there is no event left to predict. It is a space of permanence. Without rupture, or change, it is an architecture of time in which time disappears.

Riding the wormhole

If one day a space traveler wanted to cross the great distances of the universe to reach a faraway star he would need, in order to arrive within his lifetime, to travel faster than light. Faster-than-light travel is of course physically impossible, so physicists imagined the concept of a wormhole: a shortcut linking two distant points of the universe in which spaceships could remain at a normal speed and still arrive on time at destination. But a major side effect would be that, all distances and speeds remaining equal, the time spend in the wormhole must have been shorter than the time spend outside of it: the space traveler would spend a few minutes in the wormhole, but when he’d come out years would have past. By trumping time he would miss his children’s birthday, or their life, or the rise and fall of entire nations.

As we everyday leave the city, the unpredictable rhizome, to go down the tunnel, into a space of permanence where events are so few that time is barely perceptible, part of ourselves must feel like the space traveler riding the wormhole. We know that outside the tunnel a thousand of events happen; we pass under invisible parks, traffic lights, and people who don’t know about us, and when we reemerge a while after, finding back the city, its smells, its sounds (maybe it started raining), we wonder: “what have I missed?”

In Practices of everyday life, De Certeau defines the act of walking in the city as an enunciative function4: we go from place to place, encounter to encounter, and we make up the sequences of events that allow the city to act out its unpredictable narratives. Even though we can never grasp the city in full scale, even though we get lost or we’ve never been to some places, we understand that everywhere the city is able to fill out those narratives, and by doing so it is continuous.

But when riding the wormhole we interrupt the sequence of events from one place of the city to another. We substitute most of these events with those of the metro; we place instead, linking the two extremities of the sequence, the uneventful and empty string that is the metro’s temporality. We link two city places with a permanent void.

For the metro rider, Taipei city is no longer a continuous unpredictable ensemble: it becomes a number of 10mn walk areas surrounding metro stations, each of them attached to a metro line like small buds on their branches. This is how the rhizome is replaced by what Deuleuze and Guattari described as its opposite: the structured, organized, mappable tree.

We use the stations names as common references to define city’s areas, and the metro map as a representation of the city’s scale and temporality: “how many stops to get there?”. De Certeau described us how the panoramas on the top of New-York skyscrapers made the complexity of city readable, “immobilizing its mobility into a transparent text5”. Being underground, the only panorama we have here is the metro map: but it certainly is a magic one, divided in little points, each of them being accessible in a matter of minutes.

So the metro, the wormhole with its alien temporality, becomes in our minds the only continuous architecture organizing the discontinued architecture of Taipei. At each station exit, we’ll find a little piece of the city: like a small room standing at the end of a building’s hallway. A building whose powerful yet twisted temporality allowed him to dismantle then contain another.

  1. G. DEULEUZE, F. GUATTARI, A thousand plateaus, Continuum, first ed. 1988, p.23
  2. R. Le POIDEVIN, “The Experience and Perception of Time”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <;
  3. GROOT, E.A. SILVA, A planner’s encounter with complexity, Ashgate, 2010, chapter 2.3: “The rise and fall of certainty”
  4. M. De CERTEAU, The practices of everyday life, University of California Press, first ed. 1984, p.93“
  5. Ibid., p.92



翻譯 游劭寧



市民,藉由他們的行為及路徑來創造事件,城市空間也是如此,不斷演變,裡頭的建築建構又拆除,街道空曠又壅塞,店家營業又休業,不論是人類或是都市的事件,都是互相影響反應的。都市對都市影響,人對人,人對都市,都市對人, 這樣的關係可以拿來與德勒茲與瓜達西的塊莖理論相比,「沒有中心,沒有階級,非符號的系統,沒有將軍,也沒有組織化的記憶或中央自動系統,僅由狀態的流動來定義1」, 根莖理論與「樹」——一個從點衍生出有邏輯的樹狀結構系統相反。



捷運面對了這個問題。很顯然它是個實體上避開城市的快速地下系統,除了人們的憂愁, 捷運沒有任何障礙物,它每兩分鐘裝載卸載,但當群眾填滿了捷運大廳,捷運也帶來了城市上頭的不可預知性,捷運建築必須阻止這傾向並且用迥異的暫時狀態來代替它。


捷運與城市的獨特接觸點就在從人行道旁那個像是巨大隱藏物之微小末端的捷運出口, 手扶梯往下,轉換到另個世界,我們改變行為,抓住扶手與大家等速度的排著隊,接著又排著隊等待那兩聲「逼 逼」,然後又再次形成隊伍等待捷運到來,跟隨著月台地上指示,在那些步伐中,我們發現自己在過於巨大但足夠寬敞能容納尖峰時間人們的捷運大廳中競速,沒有碰撞,沒有壅塞,什麼都沒有:路徑減縮成了一個有效率且可預測的流動。
公共空間功能減少公眾事件也跟著減少,若沒得購物或沒事做,與陌生人的對話就越少, 除了行為之外,大眾的組成是被控制的,一張悠遊卡精準的記錄著人們的出入,捷運票價(2~3倍於公車票價)是保證捷運人口均值組成的過濾器。
最後,台北那多樣化的視覺環境,在入口閘門後被調整到最簡約,多數的捷運站使用一致的乾淨直白美學,這是講求功能同質性的結果。也許是想要表達這樣大型建築系統的一致性,這樣的一致性只有在這1996年才有第一條路線相對年輕的捷運系統中才被允許。捷運標誌成為捷運站中唯一的差異。簡單的顏色區分及中英文站名,作為捷運與使用者直接的傳遞者, 除了確認我們在對的捷運線上,許多文宣、影片,及播音會告訴我們不能飲食、不能嚼食口香糖、不能大聲講電話,或是,如何保護自己不被人刺傷。
有些人會從捷運站中期待著上面城市的模樣,但捷運標誌只會告訴我們街道及建築物的名字,讓我們自行想像中正紀念堂的宏偉或是士林夜市的吵鬧。台北捷運是個有參考系統的自主個體:假如捷運秀出了城市某個影像,它其實並不是在告知我們在哪,而是告訴我們搭乘那條線可以去的地方。「搭乘文湖線,發現大湖公園之美」,倘若看見部分台北, 我們則是看到協助我們選擇出口的小尺度地圖,這是含括10分鐘路程的城市尺度。 假使下錯站,時間就會拉長,而當我們看見整個台北時,它變成白色方塊裏互相交錯的彩色線條與車站—— 一個不真實卻有力量的表現法,但對捷運族來說,這就是台北的模樣。



一趟捷運旅程:經過全白的捷運站,跟隨著隊伍與人群,你走進了車廂,車門開了又關, 人們因為加速往前,減速後倒,車門再次開關,人再次往前往後,開又關,一趟捷運旅程唯一不同的地方只有這樣程序的多寡而已。從窗戶看出,看穿了自己的反射影像,你只會看到管線在黑暗隧道中蜿蜒。車廂裡,人們的心思在某處,在一個他們談論的,閱讀的,夢想的抽象空間。

沒有這些不預期性,剩下的事件不僅微不足道且在時空上也相似的微不足道,但並不是說捷運是可預測的,許多建築類型有著可預測的暫時狀態仍有著有力的意義。舉例來說, 廟宇庇護著禮俗,禮俗的重要性來自於一切都被準確的方法在準確的時間被表現出來,當牆堵讓我們在無止盡的空間中感到安心,如此計畫好的循環事件也讓我們從無止盡的時間中感到同樣安心。
然而,這裡永遠都有著白牆,永遠有手扶梯,永遠有正常人們,最重要的是,永遠都有一台捷運即將進站,不需要查時間,或是計劃啟程,捷運旅程是一連串相似的事件發生在相似未知時間的程序,無法各自分別差異,永遠都在發生,它們甚至不是自己的事件, 因為沒有事件可以預測,所以捷運的建構是不可預測的,這是個永久的空間,沒有撕裂或是改變,這是光陰消逝的時間之建構。


倘若有一天,太空旅遊者想要在宇宙穿越很遠的距離到另一顆遠方星球,為了在他生命中抵達,他必須移動得比光速還快 當然移動得比光速還快是不可能的,所以物理學家想像著「蟲洞」的概念,將兩個宇宙很遠的點連結的捷徑,讓太空船可以保持速度但仍準時到達,不過最大的副作用就是,因為所有的距離及速度都一樣,在蟲洞旅行的時間比外面度過時間還短,太空旅行者在蟲洞花的幾分鐘,出來後其實已經過了很多年,如此超越時間,他就錯過了小孩生日、他們的生活,甚或是國家的興滅。

當我們每天離開城市, 就像是不可預知的塊莖概念,走到隧道, 進入一個事件少到,時間難以感知的永久空間,我們必定覺得像太空旅行者一樣在穿越蟲洞,我們知道在這隧道外面有數以千計的事件發生,我們從隱形的公園、交通號誌,還有陌生人下方經過,當我們出了蟲洞,找回現實城市,它的味道、聲音(或許開始下雨),我們不禁思考著「我到底錯過了什麼?」

在《日常生活實踐》書中,作者德瑟多定義在城市漫步是聲明功能4, 我們移動到不同地方,有不同的相遇,我們彌補能夠讓城市付諸那些不可預測故事行動之程序,雖然我們從來無法了解城市的所有,即使我們迷路了或是我們從沒到過某些地方,我們了解城市總是可以填補那些故事,如此一來,城市是連續的。
對捷運族來說,台北不再是個連續無法預測的組合,它變成了捷運站周圍10分鐘可到的區域,每一個都像依附在捷運站的枝枒,這就是與德勒茲與瓜達西塊莖理論的相反——有結構,有組織的樹狀圖理論。我們有時將站名來定義城市區域, 捷運圖像是城市尺度及暫時狀態的表現法,「多少站可以抵達呢?」 德勒茲描述了在紐約摩天大廈的全景圖是如何讓人了解城市複雜度,「將其流動性固定成透通文字5」在地底下,我們唯一有的全景圖就是那張捷運地圖:神奇的地圖,點狀分割,每個點都可以在幾分鐘內到達。


Metro tree map



  1. G. DEULEUZE, F. GUATTARI, A thousand plateaus, Continuum, first ed. 1988, p.23德勒茲,瓦達利, 千高原
  2. R. Le POIDEVIN, “The Experience and Perception of Time”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <;
  3. GROOT, E.A. SILVA, A planner’s encounter with complexity, Ashgate, 2010, chapter 2.3: “The rise and fall of certainty” 革路特, 希爾亞,” 規劃者與複雜性的相遇“
  4. M. De CERTEAU, The practices of everyday life, University of California Press, first ed. 1984, p.93“ 德瑟多 “日常生活實踐“
  5. Ibid., p.92