Archive for January, 2010


Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Fantastic Journal has an interesting article on Terminal Five and the modern airport:

"The contemporary airport is probably the perfect architectural encapsulation of the strange complexities and iniquities of modern (western) life. They are glossy and expensive playgrounds offering endless diversions that never mask the ennui of actually being there. They are also highly policed, security-obsessed environments where the people in them are both flattered as consumers and treated as potential lunatics at the same time.

Airports are the quintessential contemporary building type, the symbolic target for terrorists and the rallying point for environmentalists. They are the manifestation of our desires and the focus of our fears. Spatially they are highly complex, a warren of labyrinthine corridors, border controls and security tape. Terminal 5 – like Foster’s Stanstead – strives to transcend the reality of endless queues and sock shops, harking back to the grand spaces of Victorian railway sheds, but the grim realities of immigration control always brings such flights of fancy back down to earth… Airplane travel today is a weird echo of 1950’s Service-with-a-Smile faux-luxury combined with the degrading intrusiveness of contemporary security arrangements. It’s hard to equate the optimism of vintage BAOC adverts with the humiliation of thousands of people being forced to take their toothpaste through security in a clear plastic bag."

In a lot of respects, I rather liked Terminal Five. Victorians looking at the Crystal Palace or St Pancras Station must have felt the way I did when looking at it. That sort of gleaming futurism is rather uncommon in Britain. With that said, my main recollection of it was the contrast between the gleaming high-tech character of the building and the rather generic anonymity of the building interior; the effect of the contrast is rather bathetic. Terminal Five is in short, the perfect representation of what Marc Auge called the ‘non-place:’

"Auge laments the rise of spaces like airports and freeways and rest areas that are decoupled from the world around them, places that could be anywhere and everywhere, but are actually nowhere. For Auge, these spaces seem to signal the end of borders, of locality, and of the old sense of identity rooted in place and time. The non-places are devoid of relationships and have ‘no room for history unless it has been transformed into an element of spectacle.’"