«by Hannah Knox Damian O’Doherty Theo Vurdubakis Chris Westrup EBK Working Paper 2005/20 Enacting Airports: Space, Movement and Modes of Ordering ...»
This final point can be illustrated by the 20 customer information kiosks that Fulchester installed in an attempt to prevent mass congregation and to enhance smooth people flow, manned by a virtual customer services representative that takes the form of an avatar named FAITH4. When a passenger approaches the kiosk FAITH walks onto the screen from left to right and knocks on the screen and asks if she can be of any help. The user-interface screen offers a series of windows and menus, icons, tools and various controls. Modelled on one of the human CSAs who works at Fulchester and complete with ‘feminine attributes’ and regional accent (see Gustavsson and Czarniawska, 2004), FAITH is a way of relieving crowd build up and pressure around customer service desks. We are told that in recent years CSAs have been subject to ever increasing demands by passengers who look to them to solve all kinds of queries - a problem exacerbated, it has been suggested, by the popular television broadcast of a number of fly-on-the-wall documentaries about airports which follow and highlight the activities of demanding passengers5. The kiosks have been installed to answer routine customer information requests about facilities in the airport, flight information, train information and details on local accommodation and sights.
FAITH provides an uncanny mimesis of the customer service interaction and extends the reach of the ‘virtual organization’ into the physical. Customers are increasingly being constituted by and taken into the virtual realm where they can explore space beyond the immediate geography of the kiosk and the terminal. FAITH can offer recommendations and even draw your attention to special offers on sale in the various shops within the airport. In connecting with FAITH the passenger can be quickly and easily re-designated as a consumer or regional tourist. By touching base with FAITH and by plugging into its man-machine symbiosis, the space or mapped-space of the airport is redistributed and reoriented around the position of kiosk. Unlike static maps FAITH makes the passenger the central reference around which the airport is digitally translated and represented on screen; in tandem, airport users are re-inscribed as subject-object or ‘subjectile’ (Deleuze, 1993) so that they can be redirected along various lines of flight that traverse the airport.
The kiosks are designed to provide customers with the information they need to keep them moving as an element in the wider economy of flows around the airport space.
The location of the kiosks is therefore important for managing this flow. People who refuse this enrolment by the virtual, however, can become awkward nodes of recalcitrance and in some cases the kiosk can, by virtue of its visibility, be ‘hijacked’ and re-appropriated for more traditional functions within social relations. Indeed, there have been a series of unintended consequences and unforeseen repercussions arising out of the use of FAITH. Christine Newsome, an IT manager at Fulchester Airport, tells us of a recurring problem in terminal two where FAITH is located. This
is a high volume passenger-flow area:
‘…just before you go through security in departures. We would get a PIA (Pakistani International Airlines) flight and there were just so many people in that area, and because they all have to walk through, past the FAITH kiosk, they all come with all of their families, and they are usually very very big families and that whole area is just absolutely swamped … the kiosk is either going to be an obstruction for those people, or it is just completely hidden anyway for any other passengers that want to use it. So we are looking at
Like the mapping of airways for aeroplanes the airport is being diagrammed and reshaped by new information systems and communications technology in relation to the calculation of movement, forces and flow. The virtual has begun to fold itself into our world, altering physical experiences and consciousness, and colonizing our unconscious in ways that finds expression in imagination and fantasy – sometimes revealed in the trace of language and its mixture of anthropomorphic and sciencefiction style phraseology. ‘Inundation’, ‘TOBIAS’, ‘FAITH’, ‘Snowstorms’, and the phrase ‘pushing tin’ used by American air traffic controllers to describe their control of aeroplanes, are all suggestive of some of these effects. The architecture and space of airports is also beginning to incorporate the shape-shifting potential of digital technology and artificial intelligence.
To navigate the increasingly complex and digitally constituted space that characterises the modern airports passengers must increasingly defer to the (hybrid) logic of symbiotic human-machine technologies (Gray, 1995; Harvey, 1996). Automated voice announcements instruct individuals where to go and what to do. Meanwhile a complex architecture of automated security technology discreetly monitors, regulates and channels the flow of the mass, opening doorways or closing off exit gates, or sending signals to loudspeakers if it is necessary to relay further warnings and instructions (Adey, 2004). In addition a series of personal navigational-aid technologies are in various stages of development and deployment that will offer interactive forms of time and spatial management returning a degree of discretion and choice back to the individual user of organization (Diller and Scofidio, 2002).
Cutting edge airport design is no longer the modernist architecture inspired by the adventure of flight and travel into the unknown, but now looks towards architects such as Diller and Scofidio, Kas Oosterhuis, Lars Spuybroek, Stephen Perella, and Marcus Novak, who are all experimenting with buildings of ‘liquid’ and ‘soft’ architecture, buildings that are contingent and ‘emergent’ embodying revolutionary building ‘materials’ such as active inner skins, animated textures, and data driven structures creating multi-strata, convergent and enfolded, organizational forms. We might call these experiments ‘media machines’ which embody sentient technologies that act and react to human behaviour and other environmental forces allowing for a complex co-evolutionary growth of architectural form and user (Beckmann, 1998;
Perella, 1998, Zellner, 2000). As it is being ‘emptied out’ to facilitate transit and flow the space of the airport is becoming increasingly more ‘plastic’ and variable, responsive to various forms of digital media and the ‘sensate’ qualities of hybrid manmachine ‘actants’ acting in concert with simulated and artificial intelligence. The implications of this diversity and development are not always known and the uncoordinated growth of personal mobile ICTs alongside the multiplicity of innovations and initiatives promoted by different ‘interest groups’ makes the space of the airport a heterogeneous-becoming, a multiplicity productive of all kinds of new borders and boundaries, zones of transition and mutual interference across ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ dimensions in organization.
Conclusion Fulchester airport promotes itself with the logo ‘bringing you closer to the world’.
Indeed, the official (business) mission of any airport is the performance of connections. Airports are judged by where they connect to and by how speedily and efficiently they can process passengers and goods to those destinations. Airports tend to be thought of not so much as places in their own right, but more as what comes inbetween ‘proper’ places. They are said to be ‘non-places’, mere points where ‘thousands of individual itineraries’ converge for a moment, unaware of one another’ (Augé, 1995:3) – and are thus commonly narrated through vocabularies of ‘transience, alienation and discontinuity’ (Ballard, 1997). In fact ‘alienation’ increasingly describes the ambivalent relationship between airports and their local environments, a tension captured in celebrity architect Rem Koolhaas’ proposal that the replacement for the increasingly inadequate Schipol airport should be built on an artificial island in the North Sea – the symbolic subordination of physical space to the ‘space of flows’.6 In the era of an increasingly ‘light’ and ‘liquid’ modernity (Bauman, 2000), airports are sites where we might expect to find ‘the space of flows’ most visibly performed.
This gives the airport the status of a prototypical organization for Castells’ ‘Network Age’.
We have attempted to evoke and understand something of the strange and disorienting experience of moving through, working in and inhabiting the airport as a non-place of supermodernity, a space of flows that we find is challenging the spatial and social categories through which objects, subjects and organization is normally described. At Fulchester the performance of ‘flows’ is routinely invoked by members as a mode of ordering, a means of ‘appropriating order out of disorder’. Any airport performs a wide range of such orderings (security, citizenship, customer service, ‘dwelltime’7 management etc.) and their associated space-ings. The successful movement of people and objects from one mode of ordering to another, does not, we have argued, translate the latter into the mirror of the former. Rather such movements open up a whole range of questions: about how subjects and objects assembled within, say, virtual space, fare in physical space and vice versa; about the tensions that are in evidence between representation and represented, sign and referent; and about how these drift apart and how are they pulled together again. We have here traced a series of objects, subjects and artefacts at Fulchester as they are passed from one mode of ordering to another, their assembly and disassembly performed by various information, communications, and digital technologies designed to facilitate order and enhance ‘flow’. In doing so we have explored the implications of these orderings for the management and performance of identities and spaces.
At the same time, it is clear that order(ings) and stabilities are inevitably incomplete and prone to interference and overflow. Visiting Saarinen’s TWA terminal today is a very different experience from the soaring uplift inspired by its design and installation. Agitated, jostling crowds animate the concourse, washed in an uneasy mix of over-illuminated artificial light and grey ‘natural’ daylight that filters through grimy, stained windows. A worn and faded red carpet, and walls that reveal splinters and cracks, violate a building routinely cluttered with a series of plywood sheets that hide temporary building work (Gordon, 2004). Vast car parks and roadway extensions have encroached upon this once seamless orb of light, striated now with complex lines of gravity and cross-cutting demarcation. The airline it once served has disappeared, replaced by Delta, a low cost economy airline. International air travel is no longer a rarefied privilege for the ‘kinetic’ elite but a mass market segmented into streams of flow that course through airports at variable speeds, occasionally sharing the same space at brief moments of confluence, but otherwise diffluent in passage to various lounges and reserved territories, virtual and ‘real’, within airport space.
We have seen how objects, subjects, and meanings are rendered more volatile as they become ‘overdetermined’ by the constitutive and inscriptive work of modern information and communications technology (Knox et al., 2005). Today, media and surveillance technologies in combination with various forms of expert systems fuel novel dreams of order(ing) by means of smart buildings, automation, virtuality, and remote control. Space is the medium of their co-evolution, but space in organizations such as airports is no longer a stable container. It is increasingly more akin to a heterotopia of ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ topoi that are circumscribed and conjoined by a complex network of borders and boundaries that invent new limits and transgressions as it attempts to fulfil the desire to bring the world closer. Bringing one world closer, however, displaces another, as St Exupery’s line of flight beyond the boundaries of the real world survives in the contemporary airport in the form of digital oracles and an alien-nation of strange forces and hybrid becomings. Castells’ vision of flow is seemingly shadowed by a spectral and uncanny dystopia of instability and flood.
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