We Make Money Not Art: Heathrow Heritage

Writer Regine Debatty talks to Design Interactions graduate, Lisa Ma, about her efforts to stop the expansion of the Heathrow Airport through a tour project.

Last year, stories of families forced to spend their holidays inside Heathrow airport due to bad weather conditions and volcanic ash clouds have made the headlines of newspapers. Inspired by the misery endured by the passengers, Lisa Ma, a graduate from the department of Design Interactions, is now offering stranded travelers the possibility to spend their waiting time in a tour of the area surrounding the transport hub.

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Heathrow Heritage is a series of excursions run in cooperation with the activists, historians and residents of the villages around Heathrow. Most of the locations visited typically look like postcard pretty English villages but are threatened by the expansion of the airport. Lisa Ma also enrolled the complicity of the airport deacon who gets in touch with stranded passengers and informs them of the possibility to spend some time outside of the terminals on a bike tour around the ancient villages.

 

Passengers are first transport on a free bus then hop on a bike to cycle around and learn about Richard Cox, the inventor of the Cox apple, who was buried in the 12th century village church, to see a Medieval barn rumoured to be the oldest and largest in England….

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visitors will be told about the astute plan Greenpeace hatched to protest against the Third Runway. The activists bought an acre of land and sold it to 100,000 people around the world for £2 each. The plot is now used as an allotment for locals and protesters.

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View of the Airplot

The Heathrow Heritage activity brings two communities together: disgruntled’ travelers passing through the airport on their way to other cities and local residents who are deeply affected by but rarely in direct contact with goings on the other side of the airport fences. The tour leaves entertaining and memorable experiences for the passengers and constitutes a new form of activism for the protesters.

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Village of Harmondsworth from the church tower

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Narrative map of Heathrow Heritage (hi-res version)

While working on the project Lisa Ma also met Raj the homeless and ‘unofficially authorised resident of Terminal 5.”

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The atmosphere inside the Terminals is miles away from the lovely cottages and pubs located a few minutes away from the airport.

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Quick questions to Lisa:

How did the airport authorities react to your project? After all, it’s both a lovely way to handle stranded passengers but it is also potentially annoying for them if you let activists point to the problems involved in the expansion of the airport.

You are absolutely right, we are very careful about approaching the airport authorities in case the project becomes prohibited or subverted. If BAA should take on the project, it would be under their campaign of being “committed to being a good neighbour”.

I had a conversation with someone from Air France, who was interested in inviting the project over to Paris. They seemed to understand that a combination of self-criticism and debate in a local-run service could actually improve the reputation of the aviation centre. I’m told about the further terminal expansions at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport and imagine a similar situation to Heathrow may happen in Roissy.

 

(To continue reading, click here.)

Régine Debatty is the creator of “We Make Money Not Art” blog and an art show curator. She has also spoken at several conferences and festivals about the way artists, hackers and interaction designers (mis)use technology. Learn more about Régine Debatty.

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