Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

15 June 2011

The Schipol Assignment (applied to Detroit)

Even before my summer study abroad program began I was given an assignment. My travel vast itinerary included a stop at Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam. This airport has a new lounge that incorporates some of what our group has been studying. It’s the Rain forest lounge where the internationally uniform mall like atmosphere of most major airports gives way to an serene rain forest.

The Msnbc article I’d been sent claimed that it had unique and comfortable seating inside of fake trees which had various plugs for the electronic devices of travelers, and free wi-fi. After a nine hour flight this seemed like a perfect place to spend my two hour layover in Amsterdam.

At the other end of my flight in Detroit I waited in the hard lounge seats in the terminal of Detroit’s International airport. I watched the red tram above the long terminal as it ferried passengers from one end to the other.

During my layover I heard the sounds of birds. I near subconsciously brushed this off as a plan to try and comfort me with the sounds of nature as interpreted by an acoustic engineer. I ignored them for a moment until they began to squawk like birds do in nature, and decisively not like they do on the p.a. system. The birds squawked again and I found the source: actual birds.

These birds had become trapped in the airport and made a living off of the passengers. This birds lived in small trees in terminal in airport lounges to provide some measure of comfort to passengers before a long flight. A tree designed to comfort passengers ended up serving some of the purposes it would in nature. A designed natural setting became a real one.

These trees are in large pots on top of the dirt rounded stones. The stones in this planter weren’t bare. People have written on these stones.

This is not an airport program. People, like the birds, have made this space their own. Instead of building nests though, we’ve written messages to no one in particular about ourselves. We’ve been here. we stayed for a bit on our way to , New York or London or Seoul or Tampa Bay. It’s a collective action that says something about our nature. We’ll leave a message in a bottle, messages that create a personal used space within a ‘non-place’.

Despite the best efforts of designers and engineers to create a comfortable ‘natural’ space, and often coming up short. But we put our own touches in these places as we pass through. This human impulse to mark can make the site more comfortable. People will find way to shape the places they occupy, just as those birds trapped in the terminal always find material to make their nests.

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