A tourist mother was overheard in the lobby of the MetLife building telling her daughter that it was a train station. This is something which could only happen in America. I love US train stations, especially the grand ones along the Boston-to-Washington corridor: Washington’s Union Station, Philly’s Penn Station, New York’s Grand Central Terminal. But one thing these imposing edifices all have in common is a very un-European habit of hiding the trains.
Europe, of course, has more than its fair share of grand train stations of many different vintages, from Antwerp to Milan. But as a general rule — one which applies equally to the newest and shiniest of them all, in Berlin — they celebrate the trains, rather than hiding them. The centerpiece of any train station is just as much the large steel-and-glass turn-of-the-century sheds over the tracks as it is any imposing facade.
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any obvious reason why this should be the case. Why should the Europeans be the utilitarians, here? I suspect it might have something to do with the vintage of the stations in the US: maybe they were built a bit later than their European counterparts, in more developed cities, and therefore had less room to play with and more incentive to bury the tracks and the trains. But I doubt that’s the whole story.