Little details, beautiful experiences

When I was getting back from Milwaukee earlier this month I passed through Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. The grand old Pennsylvania Railroad built 30th Street Station in a style from another time when we built with a more permanent attitude and with a grander public spirit despite being a poorer nation. And that commitment to grandeur can be seen even in the smaller details like the doors that lead to the station platforms:


These are substantial, heavy doors. There’s obvious craftsmanship to them, not only in their heft but in the details of their framing and the handles themselves. Notice the way that even the engraved “PUSH” lettering isn’t just stamped into the metal, but in fact artfully etched in a way that seems to me to be refined but also playful. The black “P U S H” stickers are obviously from another time by comparison.

The Pennsylvania Railroad vanished decades ago, but this huge station remains. When its pieces break, its crafted details become vulnerable. Consider the difference between the original doors above and the contemporary push bars on another set of doors:


These push bars are the sort of thing that are mass produced, probably available from a supplier readily and inexpensively. There’s simply a hole in the door frame where the key barrel once was. And the P U S H stickers apparently were applied by small children, rather than anyone with a sense of symmetry. Lost is any sense that the function of the doors as a gateway for travelers matters in the same way previous generations seemed to suggest.

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