Centre for the Displaced: In praise of architectural neutrality in the airport terminal

October 28, 2011

Centre for the Displaced: In praise of architectural neutrality in the airport terminal (essay link)
By Danny


Since the invention of the airplane in 1903 and the jet airliner fifty years later, air travel has become a worldwide phenomenon. In Melbourne, over 27 million passengers were processed in 2010[i], and within the next three years the total global number of air passengers is expected to exceed 3.3 billion annually[ii].

The airport is comprised of a continually fluctuating population of displaced citizens, a heterotopia[iii] that represents both a point of departure and a point of arrival; a gateway to the city and a gateway to nowhere. The terminal becomes a manipulating container for the processing of bodies; that is, the registration of deportees, and the quarantined analysis of those just arrived.

Exposed to highly stressful conditions – cramped, pressurised interiors, high altitudes and consistently noisy atmospheres – often for comparatively lengthy periods of time – the international arrivant is tired, stressed, anxious, and excited: brimming with affect. The airport terminal, a micro-city of a “roiling maelstrom of affect”[iv], must dampen behavioural friction in order to impose a sense of authority and order.

This essay seeks to examine the spatial strategies employed in the (inherently) generic airport terminal in order to reveal an insight into architecture’s ability to manipulate and neutralise affect. It will reference Brian Massumi and Nigel Thrift on Affect, Michel Foucault and Marc Augé on the non-place, Peter Adey on the spatio-psychology of the airport, drawing on three contemporary airport precedents before a brief conclusion.

[i] Melbourne Airport. 2011. ‘Melbourne Airport Soars to 27.7 million passengers in 2010’, viewed on line 16 August 2011: <http://www.melbourneairport.com.au/News-Events/Listing/Overview/Melbourne-Airport-soars-to-277-million-passengers-in-2010.html&gt;

[ii]BBC News. 2010. ‘Airline profits to fall as fuel costs rise, says Iata’, viewed on line 16 August 2011: <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12446045&gt;

[iii] Foucault, M. 1986. ‘Of Other Spaces’ in: Diacritics, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp22-27

[iv] Thrift, N. 2004, ‘Intensities of Feeling: Towards a Spatial Politics of Affect’ in: Geografiska Annaler, 86B (1), pp57-78


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