With the A380 experience approaching, Michael Hammond asks, “are we destined for an ever decreasing quality of travel as the scales tip relentlessly towards volume?”
Personal space is a somewhat overused and hackneyed expression, but whilst on one hand it’s a very intangible or “fluffy” notion, if it impacts on you, then it suddenly becomes a very real experience and can ruin a moment, your day or even the enjoyment of your home, our ultimate sanctuary.
Nowhere tests our personal space boundaries more than urban travel and top of the pile must be negotiating today’s busy airports. Here we are subjected to increasingly personal humiliations and undignified security “processing” which we must not only endure without complaint as it is “for our own good” but even worse, we must now also feel guilty about our trip. The dark carbon cloud over our heads being clearly visible for all to see.
I read with dismay this week at the airlines’ plan to start incorporating a number of seats facing backwards (and worse, towards other passengers) to cram more seats in. The thought of having to avoid eye contact for a seven hour transatlantic flight would I think be sufficient provocation to make me switch airline.
The discomfort of course starts well before you board the plane. Traffic volumes are increasing at a relentless pace, this month alone, there will an estimated 2,513,642 flights worldwide. London’s Stanstead Airport designed by Norman Foster was handling less than one million people per year at the time of opening in 1991, but is now bursting at the seams pushing 25 million a year through its doors… The quality of the passenger experience there can only be imagined.
Europe’s largest and busiest airport, London Heathrow, to many, the gateway to the UK is also struggling to cope. Having evolved in a haphazard manner since its pioneering days in the 1940s when it was a mere collection of tents, its 70,000 staff are now handling a staggering 67.7 million passengers per year (yes that staff figure was correct.) Heathrow is finally being reformed into a cohesive masterplan, its implementation involving a number of leading architects. By 2012, Heathrow will be unrecognisable; T1 and T2 will have been demolished to make way for a new “Heathrow East” currently being designed by Foster + Partners. Passengers frequenting the overstretched T3 will soon have some relief thanks to a new forecourt and façade, also by Fosters.
The major component of the new Heathrow will of course be Richard Roger’s gleaming £4.2bn T5, now nearing completion. It has been 20 years in the making and with a clear 165 metre span based on 10 vast steel trees, it will be the largest in Britain and will help the airport handle its estimated 25 million increase in passengers. Interestingly Roger’s award winning Barajas airport in Madrid was conceived and completed within the T5 process. Clearly saying something about the Spanish “get-on-with-it” approach.
So how will the passengers’ experience be in this cathedral to air travel? Well presumably the answer will be that it should be significantly better, at least initially as the terminal is operating at the beginning of its life cycle and well within its designed capacity. But even now provisions have been made for T5 to burst out into satellites, just in case and compromises have already been made with the BAA relaxing its standard requirements for the provision of travelators every 250 metres. Not because they are in short supply, you understand, but to allow more retail integration… So that’s the answer when designing airports of the future, just add shops. Retail will take the pain out travelling. And retail at T5 has been super-sized, weighing in a huge 18,580m². Happy shopping.
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