T5: Expectations of agency

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I’m in Oslo for a few days, and to get there I went through Heathrow’s new and controversial Terminal Five. After all the stories, and Ryan’s talk on the service design snafus it’s experienced I approached my visit there with excitement and trepidation.
Excitement still, because it’s still a major piece of architecture by Richard Rogers and Partners – and sparkly new airports are, well, sparkly and new.
YMMV, especially as we were travelling off-peak, but – it was pretty calm and smooth sailing all the way. I’m guessing they’ve pulled out all the stops in order to get things on an even-keel.
Saw both pieces installed in the BA Club Lounges by Trokia (‘Cloud’ and ‘All the time in the world’), both of which were lovely – you can get to see them both without having to be a fancypants gold carder, which is good.

The thing that struck me though was the degree of technological automation of previously human-mediated process that were anticipated, designed and built – that then had to be retrofitted with human intervention and signage.
It’s a John Thackara rant waiting to happen, and that’s aside from all the environmental impacts he might comment on!

My favourite was the above sign added to the lifts that stop and start automatically, to make sure you understand that you can’t press anything. Of course, we’re trained to expect agency or at least the simulation of agency in lifts – keeping doors open, selecting floors, pressing our floor button impatiently and tutting to make the lift go faster. Remember that piece in James Gleick’s FSTR where lift engineers deliberately design placebo button presses to keep us impatient humans happy? People still kept pressing the type panels – me included!
To paraphrase Naoto Fukasawa: sometimes design dissolves in behaviour and then quickly sublimates into hastily-printed and laminated signage…

0 comments
  1. charlie said:

    re: agency – Good point. I’m sure there are tons of examples of how agency needed to be re-introduced. But I wonder how much T5 issues are due to designers being ‘too clevah’ or obsequious.

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