I’m in Dubai airport on the way to the Maldives to meet President Mohammed Nasheed and attend an underwater cabinet meeting (which is not a sentence I ever thought I’d write). I don’t understand airports. They are a potential melting pot of people from all countries and cultures and yet they are some of the simultaneously dullest and most alienating places on the planet, full of naff shops and lacklustre restaurants. Dubai airport is like a cross between Walmart and the rib cage of some deceased leviathan. As Douglas Adams once wrote “It’s no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase ‘As pretty as an airport’ appear. Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort.”. I’d call Dubai airport ‘medium ugly’. It’s not even got the ambition to really take ugly and make it it’s own.
I don’t want to buy a raffle ticket for a car. I don’t want to buy overpriced (yet ‘duty free’) sunglasses or perfume. I have no need for an 8-pack of Toblerone, or enough cigarettes to kill a dinosaur. I would like a space that encourages meetings between travelers. International airports could be a force for cultural understanding, or places that showcase the best of their host nations. Instead they seem to separate us from one another and suggest that the country outside has the lowest of aspirations. ‘Welcome to our nation, would you like a bumper pack of M&M’s?’
I do hope that future spaceports (which I’ll cover in the chapter ‘Spacestation Hilton’) learn not to emulate this worldwide virus of soul destroying termini. Author Anthony Price summed it up when he wrote the devil himself has probably redesigned Hell in the light of information gained from observing airport design. Any second now I expect to hear the announcement “Paging passenger Stevenson. This is the last call for your soul. Your soul is now departing from gate 7.”
Right I’m off to catch a plane.