I could be anywhere in the world!

Heathrow, Birmingham, Rome, Dublin, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai - who knows?  This is simply corporate world!

Heathrow, Birmingham, Rome, Dublin, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai – who knows?
This is simply corporate world!

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky tacky,

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes all the same.

There’s a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

          Malvina Reynolds (1962)

Pete Seeger, the American political activist and singer with whom I most readily associate the song “Little Boxes” died last year at the age of ninety four. The song tells the story of an unimaginative approach to housing development, through which hundreds of poorly designed and constructed houses, built with low quality materials cover the country. These become indistinguishable from each other, as do the people who live within them. The song is a protest against poor design and the encroachment of corporate image.

You know how it is, suddenly a song comes into your head and you are unable to shake yourself free of this, until after a while it begins to iritate? Well, this morning I found myself humming the tune to this song as I meandered in a somewhat delirious, fatigued state through the airport at which I arrived in São Paulo, Brazil. Here was I, arriving in an airport at a place previously unvisited, that was oh so familiar. Looking at the immediate environment, this could easily have been Dubai, Bangalore, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dublin, or any one of the numerous airports I have visited in recent years, including terminal five of London’s Heathrow from which I had departed just twelve hours earlier. This is a curse of modern travel; the uniformity that has come to characterise airports around the globe, forbidding any true sense of national or local identity. If an unknowing individual was dropped into the midst of any of these locations, they would have little clue as to where in the world they might be.

Each destination appears to house the same ugly furnishings, completely ill at ease with themselves. The décor is bland and boring, almost clinical in its presentation. In recognition of the modern obsession with consumerism, the architects (if one can truly describe them as such) of these soulless places, guide the passenger through a mazy path between “designer” shops, with instantly recognisable labels, selling goods that you could never previously have known you needed, enticing you to part with whatever currency you choose in a frenzied display of shopper’s madness. The same familiar goods, sold from display cabinets of corporate uniformity, easily recognised from any other airport in the world, ensure that the only thing that you, the weary traveller knows for sure is that you are in yet another airport.

As many who know me well would tell you, I am not a great fan of shopping, and I must say that it is rare that anything within these cathedrals of consumer insanity would entice me off the path to a seat near my embarkation gate. I sometimes wonder if I was inoculated against the dangers of catching the shopping bug when I was a child. If so, this is doubtless yet another act for which I owe many thanks to my parents.

To be fair, a few airports have made the effort to reassert a more personal identity. I remember a few years ago in Schiphol airport, Amsterdam, that there were two particularly pleasing and thoughtful features. A small collection of paintings from the Rijksmuseum had been displayed in a quiet area, inviting the waiting traveller to browse and enjoy something of Dutch culture. In another part of the airport, a small library with books in many languages had been installed, tempting willing readers to turn the pages and relax with a work of literature. I was more than happy to respond positively to both of these allurements, a much more delectible means of addressing the tedium of a long wait. Even more creative, at Changi airport in Singapore, a butterfly garden was constructed with exotic plants and examples of these beautiful multi-coloured insects to raise the curiosity of the passenger in transit. Again, a pleasant half hour or more was spent during one of my visits, exploring this lovely area. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more such innovation could be applied to these boring, non-descript edifices. Such creativity could certainly make the endless periods of waiting less tedious. Whilst functionality and efficiency must obviously dictate the ways in which airports operate, some effort to retain national identity would be most welcome.

I well recognise the symptoms associated with today’s blog. I am tired after a long period of travel by air and road, and a fruitless effort in trying to sleep in a cramped aircraft seat. I am sure that after a good night’s rest I will be restored and ready to learn with and from colleagues here in Brazil. Perhaps it is the lack of sleep that has made me view international airports in a less than favourable light – but I still can’t get that irritating tune out of my head, because basically

they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

2 thoughts on “I could be anywhere in the world!

  1. Hi Richard, Dubai airport also now has the Zen Gardens, a place of quietness and tranquility among fronds of green palms and shrubbery, situated between gates B7 and B27. There’s also a mini-waterfall too!

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