COME FLY WITH EXPERIENCE THINKING: CALLING ALL AIRPORTS – UNDERLAY NOT OVERLAY

You’re in a giant waiting room with branded shops and a clutch (if you’re lucky) of restaurants. You’re not here for the joy of it. You can’t leave. You’re in an endurance test. You are suffering – in the name of travel.

A definition: the term ‘Experience Thinking’ is a people-first approach to placemaking.

1. Borrowing from the success of early Disney, it is the rigour and creative thought that anticipates and sets the agenda for the creation of places made for and by people.

2. It is a thinking not about the now, which is always becoming the past, but rather about what comes next.

3. Coffee shop or city, it is an act of storytelling, as imagined through the eyes of that place’s future participants or users.

4. It understands the universality of key behaviours, but it does not think in templates. It is local thinking. It is relevant.

5. It comes before the architecture or hardware of a place. It precedes even the software of the interior design. It is the ‘humanware’ of placemaking. It is the underlay.

Experience thinking isn’t new. It’s been around forever. It’s just that the technology of modern urban placemaking has reversed the placemaking maker steps, preferring engineer-driven value stacks, a creative logic that begins with the hardware of the architecture, then designs for the software, and finally¬†ends with the experiencing human, which it labels ‘overlay’.

While examples of engineered placemaking abound, chief among the culprits, at least for me, is that great aperture of modern urbanity, the airport. I think it was L’Oreal’s Barbara Lavernos who memorably dubbed the airport our Sixth Continent. The world of departures is – at any one time – temporary home to a staggering 15% of the world’s population. It is supposed that in 2020 travel retail will be worth as much as Facebook is today. We do not need to tell airports what they have. They know.

Only, unless you’re a member of a club, or lucky enough to be flying out of Munich Airport (to which much of what follows does not in any way apply), you’re at the mall – with extra seating. You’re in a giant waiting room with branded shops and a clutch (if you’re lucky) of restaurants. You’re not here for the joy of it. You can’t leave. You’re in an endurance test. You are suffering – in the name of travel. It doesn’t matter that the terminal’s designed by Norman Foster. It doesn’t matter that you’re sitting in a Phillip Stark chair. Not if you’re the afterthought – not if you’re the overlay.

It needn’t be this way, especially at the airport. Thinking about experience and the airport, it could just as easily be the most wonderful of programmed festivals. Building on the vast and presently narrowly tapped data mountains (which, like it or not, tell us who you are, where you’re from, what time you’re arriving, how long you’re staying, and what you are most likely to buy, eat and drink), the airport as festival is experience thinking at its best. It’s things for free. It’s the freedom to participate. It’s the joy of engaging with the now. It’s Munich Airport, which has a piazza, scene of the most extraordinary programme of events – so good, in fact, that people make a point of arriving EARLY. Its’s the airport as it should be: a wonderful experience.

So, airports. Underlay not overlay. Begin with people. Programme for experience. Attract, involve. Be generous. Do this and you give us a sense of ownership. We feel like we belong, and because we do, we stay, we spend, and we remember.

Think about the experience.

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