Obscurity in Transit
By Ian Keith
Airports are spaces and places where the self must conform to the unseen eye. Behaviors must be modified, must be controlled, and in the midst of transit regardless of it being intuition or instinct, we as travelers conform to the rigid structure of airports. Although airports are often times the spaces in which tempers are elevated, stress is induced, and internally we are irritated, for the most part we must remain contained. We must contain our feelings in transit because of the ever looming, what if?
As we enter the glass doorways of airports we immediately seek ticket counters, baggage drop offs, curbside check in’s, security checkpoints, and most likely a Starbucks. There are procedures and processes to the behaviors enacted in airports, perhaps its fear, or inherent knowledge, but the moment we enter these doors our airport algorithm is triggered.
For many, airports are places in which to enact an identity other than the norm. I ask myself one key question as I prepare for my car ride to the airport, is my aesthetic representation comparable to the wardrobe of one Kanye West? For others, joggers and crocs are the best way to maneuver through an airport. My father once told me a story of his experience in transit. With two large ski bags in tow, a duffle, and a backpack, sweaty and pissed, he was told by a US Airways agent that he no longer had a ticket. You can only imagine what these words would do to a tired, sweaty, 6’1, 250 pound man. The behavior of this agent and the behavior of my father are not indications or truths of who they are in real life, but more so, their persona’s in transit.
Ticket counters and security lines are the most prominent spaces and moments I have seen airport rhetoric imposed. The verbiage and general herding of individuals is uncommon in spaces outside of prisons or grade school recesses. We are roped off, pointed at, talked to unfamiliarly, treated like cattle, but for those with priority- the space is altered.
Our behaviors in spaces like airports are in my opinion less so to do with those we do see, but more so, by those who we cannot. Post 9/11 transit has placed travelers in a hypervisible state that allows for no movements to be unseen and no persons to remain anonymous. Through lenses and scanners we are shot in this pseudo-panoptic way that allows for us to remain visible, meanwhile, the man behind the curtain is never exposed.
In May I ran a marathon that had water stations, mile markers, mothers with signs, and an abundance of cameras; essentially I was running through baggage claim for 26 miles. Much like an airport, my marathon had various checkpoints; these were halfway stations or spaces for relief. In an airport the checkpoints are seemingly limitless, whether it is in line for a bathroom or the line for security, you are subjected to search, confiscation of goods, or general referral of service. Airport checkpoints are not spaces for relief, but more so spaces of great discomfort.
Through mazes, grids, stops, and searches there is incessant obscurity in transit. Airports are seemingly incomprehensible, they are hubs for emotionalism, and they are devoid of normalcy. Even for those avid travelers who must succumb to the nature of airports weekly and or daily, you somehow overtime develop an emotional callus to the treatment received in the midst of transit.
“I don’t begin with a preconceived notion of what a building should be – it is not a sculpture. I prefer to patiently search through extensive discovery until I find a seam somewhere, crack it open and discover the art inside.” – Curtis Fentress
Curtis Fentress’ mentality in developing airports is simple, “Restrain the ego,” in assessing this state of mind one can envision why airports see such various walks of life. ARUP has been noted as saying, “We help airlines, airport operators, developers and regulators navigate future possibilities. Whether reconsidering the customer experience or carbon emissions, Arup brings foresight” (ARUP). Both Fentress and ARUP are global innovators and primary stakeholders in the development and design of airports today. Today’s major airports hold competitions for architects seeking to have their name attached to these major hubs. These spaces allow for transparency in the style and portfolio of those designated to create these transitory places as well as give recognition to cities and towns in which they dwell. London’s Heathrow Airport is the next in line to be redeveloped, remarketed, and rebranded for travelers. It is currently underdeveloped and poorly designed to hold the nearly 300 million travelers it sees yearly. Though in its future development it may mean that areas of the city will be pushed, prodded, and removed, but perhaps this is a necessity. Wired Magazine quoted Zaha Hadid, Heathrow’s Architect, “This work is essential to deliver the most integrated transport solutions for London and the UK,” writes Hadid in an e-mail. “It will enable London to maintain its position as one of the world’s most important economic, commercial and cultural centres; outlining the city’s future growth and development which has always been founded on global connectivity” (Wired Magazine). Travelers of today are still witnessing the airports of yesterday, but for many of us, change is right around the corner. Today’s designers, architects, and real estate tycoons are looking to create airports that are seemingly less sterile and mundane, and focused and driven on creating transit in replications of hotel lobbies. What many travelers, scratch that, all travelers crave is specificity and real-time information on flights. Eventually here in the near future is where we will see constant interaction between those controlling flight and our very own smartphones. The airport of the future (very near future) is going to be created and designed to increase comfort for those in transit. Schiphol in the Netherlands already has roving checkpoints, which means that travelers can now stock up on goods and services without feelings rushed to board.
I became preoccupied with this notion of glamour, perhaps because travel becomes a moment when I curate my own style, but also because transit has be seen as luxurious and glamorous through the pages of many magazines and various television programs. We have all sat next to those who hike up their sweats, pull out their headphones, neck pillows, and various other oddities and snuggle up next to a stranger. Thor Johnson a previous Pan Am vice president who worked at the peak of luxurious travel was quoted by the Boston Globe, “We served those beautiful meals, and people dressed up when they got on the plane. There were dress codes, but people would have dressed well even without rules” (Thor Johnson, Boston Globe) this article discusses the stark contrast between transit in the 50’s and 60’s and transit today. Perhaps it is my own take on travel, but I believe we are returning somewhat to that time of style in airports. Due to the height of celebrity we are inundated with photographs of those we admire of have utter disdain for traveling. During the time Thor describes airline travel was for those who could afford, now on many levels, transit is affordable through so many means. Traveling the friendly skies was rare for many so it was understandably a time to get dressed up, but today, as many of us find ourselves in a constant state of movement the wardrobe curating slipped, but not altogether.
“Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.” Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2015.
Fentress, C. W. Touchstones of Design: (re)defining Public Architecture. Mulgrave, Vic.: Images, 2010. Print.
Flaherty, Joseph. “Headline: 9 Stunning Next-Gen Airport Designs Cleared for Takeoff.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, n.d. Web. 03 May 2015.
Muther, Christopher. “What Happened to the Glamour of Air Travel? – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2015.
Peterson, Barbara. “The Future of Airport Design Is All About Self-Service.” N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2015.