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Airports: A Century of Architecture

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review - By Hugh Pearman. Laurence King Publishing, 2004. 240 pp. £40

Planespotting has a bit more cachÚ than trainspotting - fortunately for those of us who adore man's ability to travel by air and the planes and buildings that facilitate it, writes Liz Bailey. Among our appreciative crowd we must now number Hugh Pearman, architecture correspondent for The Sunday Times and author of Airports: A Century of Architecture.

Modern air travel being what it is - nasty, brutish and long - it may be argued that airports are best experienced without actually having to travel through them. Pearman's book, not unlike Keith Lovegrove's Airline (Laurence King, 2000), gives the reader the opportunity to become acquainted with the air-travel industry from the comfort of the coffee table.

The chapter 'Small Can Be Beautiful' shows some stunning airports one would otherwise have to travel extensively to see: the 'charming and witty' Learmonth International, Exeter, Australia, with its 'organic forms? inspired by the body of a whale shark', or the traditional timber airport on Martha's Vineyard.

The book, though passionately written, tends toward the observational rather than the analytical. Pearman's introduction, 'The Most Exciting Places on Earth', sets the tone:

'By the year 2000, ' he argues, 'the airport terminal had become, strategically, the most important building type in the world. After years of stern utilitarianism, their architecture had come of age.' But why?

Pearman divides the history of airport construction into seven themed chapters, from 'Origins' through 'The Romantic Illusion' and 'The Post-war International Airport' to 'Cities of Flight'.

A short endnote examines the direction that future airport design may take - from 'More and Bigger' to 'The New Woodlanders'. His lessthan-illuminating conclusion? That 'the real future of airports is as likely to be an amalgam of any or all of the above'.

Pearman's use of images is flawless, with a wealth of large, lush illustrations. His observations are pithy and even humorous. In 'Cities of Flight', the operators of Amsterdam's Schiphol airport describe it as 'an AirportCity:

a dynamic hub integrating people and companies, logistics and shops, information and entertainment'.

He comments wryly that such a description makes little reference to 'flying people anywhere. In fact, it is at pains to point out that when it says 'hub', it does not mean that in the airline sense.' Though Airports focuses on the expansion of the airline industry, rather than greatly advancing our understanding of its relationship to architecture, this is a beguiling and beautiful page-turner for those who share Pearman's passion for air travel and the shapely buildings it begets.

Liz Bailey is a freelance writer on technology

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