Last week thanks to PSFK I was among the lucky few invited for a preview tour of the soon-to-be-opened BA-only Terminal 5 at Heathrow, and the impressive art that has been commissioned for it. If size impresses you then the building itself- a £500mill creation by the Richard Rogers Partnership which we were told several times is ‘the largest freestanding building in UK’ with ‘5 floors each the size of over 5 football pitches’- is sure to wow.
The structure is not only sculpturally beautiful outside and in, but has also been constructed to make the most of its surroundings both environmentally and aesthetically. The liberal use of glass and steel maximises the natural light, reducing the need for artificial lighting whilst offering captivating views of the runway to reignite the passion of the golden age of air travel, while attributes including rainwater harvesting and groundwater boreholes will supply 70% of the terminal’s water.
The tour started with an overwhelming amount of data on the new system that BA has put in place to “redefine the passengers’ journey”- including the removal of check-in desks that are replaced by supermarket style groups of self-service kiosks, each group accompanied by a “BA host to assist”. BA estimate that 80% of the T5 users will check-in online, and through their new system expect the whole experience from entering the building to getting through security to take a mere 10 minutes! Not what we experienced however, as journalists are obviously deemed high-risk and therefore we were all thoroughly searched by the very serious security personnel.
Doing their bit for healthy lifestyles, BA have banned “fast-food” from the terminal, so don’t expect a McDonalds or Burger King- however a huge range of healthier-option restaurants including Giraffe, Wagamama and Itsu are available- as is a less than healthy but obviously posh enough to be included Krispy Kreme outlet- and a rather poorly branded offshoot from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, inventively called ‘Plane Food’.
Past the plethora of designer retailers and the ‘largest Harrods outside of Knightsbridge’ we finally reached the escalators that whisk those fortunate fliers to the premier lounges that have apparently cost BA over £60million, and as we walked up the escalator had the pleasure of experiencing the first of the fantastic commissioned artworks- namely the beauty of The Cloud; a kinetic sculpture by design collective Troika which aims to evoke the sensation of elevation as you travel from below to above the clouds as in flight. The 3D structure is covered with over 5000 mechanical flipdots- a technology from the ‘70s still occasionally seen at old train stations- that have been programmed to create a constantly changing and flowing pattern, and amazing accompanying sound.
At the top of the escalator is Troika’s second installation, a 22m long art wall entitled All the time in the world. The wall; a digital world clock made of super-thin electroluminescent sheets, plays with the traditional notion of time zones by replacing the expected capital city locations with exotic and exciting places around the world including natural wonders, great lakes, ancient cities and dream islands. Both pieces elegantly play with technology to revive the excitement and imagination that the travel experience once offered.
Walking through to the First Class lounge, past a set of Front-design collective’s Horse lamps guarding the entrance you are confronted by the amazing Oak Seasons, six etched glass panels by Christopher Pearson. A textile designer turned digital artist, his admiration for William Morris is clearly evident in the incredibly delicately three-dimensionally laser etched screens depicting three seasons in the life of an Oak tree, with hidden details including a football replacing an acorn, a leaf imitating a roadmap of the UK and swig suspended from a branch injecting extra elements of English culture.
Across the corridor to the even more exclusive Concord lounge, the artist’s second commission is a tromp l’oeil relief of the traditional BA crest which has been digitized and transformed into an animated video installation on a 12 minute loop. Entitled Pegasus and the Winged Lion, the characters on the crest play on the idea of Britishness whilst adding subtle humour to the lounge; if you watch long enough you’ll see amongst other things the changing of the guard, a rather big rain cloud and some amazing eccentric inventions!
Other works commissioned include temporary screens by Oona Culley and Robert Orchardson, and Kidzones- an interactive children’s area by El Ultimo Grito, whilst works from BA’s impressive art collection are also dotted seemingly randomly around the lounges- including a Julian Opie found down a corridor, a Damian Hirst that we stumbled across in between two food service counters, and what is sure to be the most expensive art collection in a ladies loo.
All the art has been brilliantly chosen by Artwise Curators, and with previous BA commissions including the likes of Sol Lewitt, Andy Goldsworthy and Tord Boontje, these young artists (all coincidentally RCA graduates- BA supporting another British institution?) are in good company. However this phenomenal creativity is let down by the rather unexciting interior design which despite its obvious excessive price still manages to look decidedly boring and reminds you that despite being open-minded with their walls, BA has a long way to go to embed this thought process throughout.
The debate among us attendees though was why, given the chance to redesign the terminal experience, BA still chose to promote the elitist ideal of art only for the rich. Why were these pieces not available to view from the main concourse? Where were the installations for all? Well there is just one- a Langlands & Bell sculpture that stands on the walls on either side of the entrance to the terminal called Moving World and consists of two luminous arcs of neon signs that spell out airport codes from around the world. Cleverly playing on the language of codes- in travel, in art and in society today, the all-inclusive artwork was commissioned by BAA (not BA!) and is described as ‘a dynamic metaphor for the ever-intensifying network of global communication and exchange- the defining characteristic of our age’. I guess BA didn’t get that bit.
See more about the building at Terminal5.ba.com