“Hostile architecture” is a term often used to describe design choices that deliberately make the urban environment uncomfortable for the people who are supposed to use it. These options often target homeless people. So instead of the row of seats being straight from one end to the other, there may be an armrest in the middle that prevents anyone from sleeping. Often public spaces go a step further and eliminate all seating. The last time I went to the train station in Chicago, there were no chairs or benches anywhere, forcing tired passengers to sit on the floor. To prevent a certain “undesirable” segment of the population from enjoying some comfort, city governments forced everyone else to be uncomfortable.
I’m at the airport as I write this and I’m noticing a slightly different but parallel trend. I arrived hours before my flight, so early that there was no gate and as a result I was wandering around the waiting areas. The furniture at each door seems designed to be functional, but not remotely comfortable. I was happy that there were high tables at the first door where I could connect my computer and write. This was exactly what I was looking for… but there was no bar to rest my feet. So my legs wobbled and I felt like I was half falling off the couch the whole time. Then I walked to another door and the bar stool there made There is a footrest. However, it was very low compared to the table. I’m 6’2′ and even I was reaching down to use my laptop, which essentially means anyone using it will be even worse off. I stayed at that desk long enough to do the work I had to do on the computer, then switched to my phone for the rest.
Airports, like cities, have a duty to keep people moving. If you’re content to stay at your gate the entire time you wait for your flight, you won’t be able to get up to stretch your legs. Unless you get up and walk around, you won’t stop by one of the many shops that line the terminal corridors. And if you don’t hit any stores, you won’t be spending $10-$50 on overpriced airport food.
I wanted to eat a healthy meal while at the airport and paid over $10 for a small chicken wrap for lunch. On the contrary, when I first arrived I got the McDonald’s breakfast and got three items for the same price. I shrug.
In this way, designers who make airport furniture are similar to game designers trying to guide a player toward desired behavior. If Capcom wants me to climb a ladder, it might spill yellow paint all over the steps. If an airport depends on consumers spending money on food, coffee, and paperbacks to remain profitable, it might make desk chairs completely immobile, making it uncomfortable to work for long periods of time.
Spending the morning here got me thinking about all the ways to gamify the airport while I wait to play Airport Tycoon. Passenger waiting areas can’t be so unattractive that they miss their flights, so you can’t put man-eating tigers at the gate. But they need to be uncomfortable enough to be able to get up and move. You can put an uncomfortably bright light outside the window and have it flash at unpredictable intervals. You can install a device that produces a low, annoying buzzing sound so that after 30 minutes, passengers can get up to go for a walk, even if they don’t know why. Maybe the door walls could be painted a disgusting color that would hurt your eyes if you looked at them for a long time.
These are all obvious fixes, but I’m in awe of the subtle, subtle sadism on display in a real airport. I would never consider making a chair a little too short or removing the footrests (using the same tactics as the inventors of the crucifix). This is evil and the kind of torture that only Sims and Koroks should be subjected to.
NEXT: The Polar Express is the BioShock of Christmas Movies
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