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EXHIBITION

REVIEW

Airworld At Tramway, 25 Albert Drive, Glasgow, until 27 May

I suspect that many architects have a passion for aviation - Leonardo da Vinci and Le Corbusier being obvious examples. The aviation industry has resolved many complex design issues that we architects still struggle with. Efficient space planning; lightweight resilient skin-structures that cope with extremes of sound and temperature but still look elegant - I could go on.

'Airworld' is not about this aspect of aviation: it is more seductive and wide-ranging.

Packed with artefacts, images, and graphics, it gives us the glamorous side of the business - the iconic airports (including Saarinen's TWA terminal and Stansted), aircraft interiors, uniforms and branding that together demonstrate the power of the industry in terms of design and innovation.

Initiated by the Vitra Design Museum, 'Airworld' is one of six major exhibitions that form the backbone of Scotland's Six Cities Design Festival - an ambitious attempt to highlight the importance of design in our lives; its impact on commerce, business, culture and identity. The Lighthouse is driving this agenda nationally with the support of the Scottish Executive.

Air travel is a clever hook on which to hang a design discussion. It's now ubiquitous, but commercial pressures to compete remain intense, forcing new, bigger, faster aeroplanes to be developed along with new levels of interior comfort (seating, lighting, decor) and a massive expansion of airports.

Straddling the full range of design disciplines - architecture, interiors, product design, fashion and aeronautics - the exhibition is visually powerful and effortlessly accessible.

Aeroplane models are set out on grid-like tables which can be viewed from high-level imitation flight-access steps: a big hit with my children, if not so good for wheelchair users.

But 'Airworld' reminded me just how utilitarian most of our provincial airports are, and how economy air travel has dumbed down the design experience, removing the charm and exhilaration. Thankfully, the show stops short of the economy era: the no-frills cabins, queues, poor-quality architecture and disposable cutlery. Instead, it charts how design and technical innovation have accelerated the development of this complex industry. In just 100 years we have moved from risk-fraught airships and crude, open biplanes to travelling in luxury, covering vast distances in hours.

While the exhibition misses the aeronautical engineering gravitas, it does give the Six Cities Festival a sophisticated, inspirational, extremely wellproduced show. It will remain in the memory as one of those installations that managed to take on Tramway's expanses and win, and, for the poor architect and frustrated pilot alike, the catalogue is to die for.

As Andy Warhol said: 'Airplanes and airports have my favourite kind of food service, my favourite kinds of entertainment, my favourite graphics and colours, the best security checks, the best views and the best optimism.'

Henry McKeown is an architect in Glasgow

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