Many airports are brightening up their public spaces with displays of innovative art and sculpture, some illustrating local culture or wildlife, some promoting events and some which are just plain weird. BILL READ FRAeS reports.

Think of airports and what images come to mind? Soulless concrete buildings, lots of queues and endless lines of retail outlets?  

Think again. Many airports are brightening up their public spaces with displays of innovative art and sculpture, some illustrating local culture or wildlife, some promoting events and some which is just plain weird.

Balloons and stunt planes

The 78m long aluminium Slipstream sculpture at Heathrow T2. (Heathrow Airport)

The entrance court to the new Terminal 2 at London Heathrow airport features a huge 77 tonne, 78m long twisting aluminium sculpture called Slipstream. Created by Richard Wilson RA, the sculpture’s form is inspired by the imagined flight path of a small stunt plane.

Neon taxi. (Heathrow Airport)

The departure lounge of Heathrow T2 also features a number of other imaginative pieces of art, including an orange neon framework of a London taxi cab. Created by artist Benedict Radcliffe, the plinth features an etching giving step-by-step directions from the artist’s workshop in Shoreditch to Terminal 2. 

Burberry retail balloon. (Heathrow Airport)

Between May and August this year the departure lounge also featured a 15m high hot air balloon hovering over the Burberry pop-up store. The Burberry Balloon was inspired by the achievements of Air Commodore Edward Maitland, who, with fellow balloonists Auguste Gaudron and Charles Turner, travelled 1,117 miles from the Crystal Palace in London to Russia in 1908, and established the British long-distance, inflight record. Maitland wore Burberry gabardine suiting for his historic flight in the ‘Mammoth’ balloon, protecting him from the severe hardships of cold at high altitude.”

Poets and trees

A walk through the trees. (Dublin Airport)

Two passenger departure areas at Dublin Airport have illustrations of trees and landscapes on pillars and walls accompanied by quotes from a number of Irish poets and writers such as Padraig Pearse, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce and Katherine Tynan. These designs are intended to showcase the unique character of Ireland’s natural environment. 

Birds and bottles

Bird mimicry is becoming more sophisticated. (Philadelphia Airport)

Another artistic airport is Philadelphia which has a shape of an aircraft made up of birds.

Gottle of gear. (Tyler Cipriani)

For those passengers more interested in earthly pleasures, Philadelphia Airport also has a sculpture constructed from empty beer bottles. 

Terminal wildlife

Giant recycled frog at Costa Rico. (Juan Santamaría Airport)

Animals are a popular subject for airport sculptures. Gate No 3 at Juan Santamaría Airport in Costa Rica features a giant frog clinging to the inside windows. The sculpture, made by artists Francesco Bracci and Zoltan Duran, is constructed from microchip waste, plastic bottles and pieces of glass bottles. The frog is part of an exhibition Paraíso Infinito de Posibilidades (Paradise of Endless Possibilities) which aims to bring tourists closer to Costa Rican culture and natural beauty through photographs and sculptures by national artists.

Atlantan ants. (Atlanta Airport)

Possibly less inspiring to passengers are the giant fire ants walking on the ceiling of the baggage terminal Atlanta airport. 

Many levelled rabbit

Giant rabbit sculpture at Sacramento. (Prayitno)

One of the ultimate wildlife airport sculptures can be found at Central Terminal B at Sacramento Airport in the US  which has an eye-catching  sculpture of a giant red rabbit leaping toward towards an open suitcase. Entitled ‘Leap’, the 56ft steel and aluminium rabbit is intended to appear to have leapt through the glass from the green space on the south side of the terminal and is diving into a suitcase on the floor of baggage claim with a liquid vortex opening on the top.

Connecting to our luggage. (Arup)

According to its creator, Denver artist, Lawrence Argent, the rabbit works on many levels with powerful symbolism throughout civilization. Not only is it a symbol of good luck but it also represents the emotions of drive, desire, anticipation, anxiety, hope, despair, frustration, exhaustion, patience, contentment, success, joy and attachment that ‘rattle in our personal baggage as we transit through the hubs of air travel’. Argent explains how "there is a joy in reconciliation with our baggage we see our bags surface from the mouth of the conveyor, as the part that was separated is now joined to form the happy union of owner and owned. Our baggage defines the nature of this emotion of connection with our ‘stuff’ and who we are as individuals. We all have different ‘stuff’ that is our comfort, but it fuels a plethora of metaphorical implications and associations that give rise to us as individualistic entities that participate in the world."

He concludes: “It is this ‘connection’ that drove me towards finding two things that could exude in essence, a need for equivalent resolve, two parts that make a whole. After much deliberation I chose a rabbit and a suitcase with an opening, a void’.”

Baggage tower

Suitcase towers (Sacramento Airport)

The older Terminal A at Sacramento airport also features a sculpture of two giant towers of baggage. Entitled ‘Samson’ this sculpture was created by Brian Goggin. 

Flying vegetables

Corncorde (Hartsfield-Jackson airport)

One of the strangest airport sculptures can be found at Gate E-16 at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport which features a giant flying corn cob. Named ‘Corncorde’ the carved wooden sculpture was made by artist Craig Nutt for the 1996 Olympics and was inspired by the sweptback wings of jetliners as the corn leaps into flight and propels upwards to cruising altitude.

Carrot control tower. (Craig Nutt studios)

Corncorde is accompanied by a second sculpture in Nutt ‘Flying Vegetables’ series which features a motorised carrot control tower. Entitled ‘Imperator’ the 1.05m high carrot was inspired by air traffic control towers, radar dishes and a grandfather clock. “As well as being the name of a type of long carrot, the title Imperator is a title given to Roman rulers and conquering generals and refers to the primacy of time in ruling the activities in an airport,” explains the artist. “The clockworks are in a rotating butterbean perched on the tip of the carrot.” 

Demigods and demons

Churning of the ocean of milk sculpture at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport. (Al Pavangkanan)

Airport sculpture can also illustrate local culture, belief and legend. Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport has a huge sculpture entitled ‘Tug of war’ which illustrates a scene from the Hindu legend of Puranas and ‘the churning of the ocean of milk’. In this story, the Devas demigods cooperated in a tug of war with the Asuras demons to churn the sea to extract the elixir of immortality. Each team holds onto one end of the king of serpent Vasuki (aka Naga which is coiled around Mt Mandara. 

Wellington Hobbit

Fissch my Precious (Wellington Airport)

Airport sculpture also extends into the world of literature, film and fantasy. To promote the recent film adaptations of The Hobbit, Wellington Airport in New Zealand featured an extraordinary sculpture featuring a giant Gollum catching fish. 

Jurassic Airport

Prehistoric Terminal 1. (Toronto Pearson airport)

If you like dinosaurs, then Terminal 1 at Toronto Pearson Airport has a prehistoric installation of an Allosaurus bearing down on an Othnielia that has fallen to the ground. Entitled ‘A Scene from the Late Jurassic’, the two dinosaur skeletons came from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). 

Singapore for sculpture

Year of the Monkey sculptures at Singapore Airport in 2016.

However, one of the best airports to see innovative art is Singapore Changi. Not only does the airport include such unlikely visitor features as a butterfly park but also features a variety of permanent and temporary installations for the admiration of passengers. In February 2016, during the week of the Singapore Air Show, one of the terminals showcased a full-size Star Wars fighter (illustrated at the beginning of this article), as well as a sculpture illustrating the 2016 Year of the Monkey.


Earth, sky, dreams and reality (Changi Airport)

The newly opened T4 at Singapore has yet more sculptures on show, including Les Oiseaux (The Birds), made of stainless steel wires which can be seen from the Arrival and Departure Halls. According to the airport, the three birds symbolise the connection between sky and earth, dreams and reality; reflecting the poetry of daily life. A 650ft ‘Petalclouds’ centrepiece visible from the transit area and check-in and arrivals halls is formed from a combination of six structures by Berlin-based ART+COM Studios that moves in sync with animated lighting and music.


Airport Love Story (Changi Airport)

The new Singapore terminal also features restaurants and shops set in ‘Heritage Zone’ facades that mimic traditional Peranakan shophouses from the 1880s to the 1950s. Two of the facades feature a ‘digital wall’ which transforms into a theatre to show a theatrical performance entitled 'Peranakan Love Story’. Set in 1930s Singapore, the cultural performance features a video played on a 10m x 6m LED screen spanning two shopfront bays with a stage setting reflecting the living rooms of two Peranakan homes. The six-minute ‘musical by composer Dick Lee tells the story of a romance between two musician-neighbours who fall in love.





Bill Read
8 August 2017

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