Tag Archives: language of the airport


Aviopolis by Gillian Fuller and Ross Harley is book about  the dynamics, structures, networking, technology and language of the airport. The book splits the phenomenon of the airport (or ‘aviopolis’) into different sections, each section being analysed and accompanied with image examples.

The seven sections of the book are:

1. Anatomy of an airport

2. Movement: life in the air changes everything on the ground

3. From the jet age to the network mall

4. Pattern: bodies and motion in a networked world

5. Transcapitalism and the multiple ecologies of an aviopolis

6. Airport semiology

7. Airport geometries

In the book the parts pertaining specifically to planes and their technologies are important to my practice. However looking at airports as a whole helps me see the interaction and relationship between technicians, pilots, employees and passengers and the commercial aircraft.

I’ve looked at 5 sections that are most important to my research in detail for this post.

In section 1 the airport’s logistical, institutional and architectural elements are analysed in terms of how successfully they allow movement of traffic. The author explains that these elements are important to enable ‘ and commodify mass global movement.’ There is also a high level instability because of exchange of systems and movement of traffic within the airport, the more sterile components of the airport allow an amount of control.

A high level of control happens in the airport where passengers cannot see, on the tarmac continuously changing planes are inspected, cleaned, maintained, checked all as streamlined and controlled as possible. All sections of the airport are designed for control to allow a safe journey. In the history of aviation mistakes made at this stage of the airport have a terrible consequences whilst planes have been in flight.

Images of a Dutch KLM plane on the tarmac ready for boarding:

KLM on the tarmac

KLM on tarmac from different angle

The book show symbols and signs on the tarmac of the airport, all indicators of control to allow the planes to move around the airport safely and as quickly as possible. These images show markings on the tarmac that inform pilots where to safely position their aircraft and also markings that allow space for different services making the plane ready for it’s next flight. This section is interesting to me as part of my research is looking into how trust is put into ever developing aviation technology and issues that arise from planes that are not maintained correctly.

In section 2 the ‘operations of mobility’ in air transit are considered, showing how everything that happens in the air has repercussions on the ground- they are almost parallel. As technology improved and allowed a larger traffic in the air, airports had to accommodate larger numbers of passengers and planes going through their systems.

It is also shown the impact on air activity September 11th terrorist attacks had- 3,667 flights in the USA at 9:49AM and 290 flights by 11:40AM.

In section 3 the book covers the history of the airport and looks in detail how it had to expand to accommodate more planes and more passengers. The book shows that the high rate that airports needed to be changed left buildings empty with building carrying on around it; any structure that could not be easily adapted was left to abandonment.

These images show fully built but desolate buildings at JFK Airport:

Also images of ongoing development of airports around the world, an example of continuous technological progression.

Section 4 covers the ‘networked world’ and the pattern of motions within it. It also touches on how passengers (as bodies) get accumulated into the patterned networks through close interactivity with airport technology and structures.

Excerpt from the book on pattern:

Some of these patterns are visible- like the precise geometry of runway lights at night or the miniaturised interlocking shapes of in-flight meals. Others appear more random, but are as predictable as the paths that planes travel overhead. Still other patterns are difficult to see- we are too caught up in them to notice- but they guide our behaviour and control our movement all the same. in a networked world, these patterns offer techniques for duplication, convergence and extension. Airports connect one thing to another entirely different thing by this process of meshing patterns. The airport is full of patterns that operate in every possible dimension and on every conceivable scale.

This section demonstrates the aesthetic aspect of interactivity between technology and man via patterns and contrasts of the natural (passengers) and the man made (the airport). It is interesting to me in terms of my practical research and work as I’m partly looking at the aesthetic that is present in air technology and how it can impact the surrounding environment.

Section 6 covers ‘airport semiology’ and adds ideas to the patters and language of the airport previously talked about in the book. This section, apart from the short text at the start, is purely images to demonstrate ideas.

The airport’s signs have to convey messages immediately via the international language of the airport. Image examples in this chapter (bad images as I had to take them with a phone camera instead of using a scanner):

These images are accompanied with short phrases showing how each set of signs is an example of contrasts and similarities through semiotics in the airport. The concept of immediate message through instantly recognisable signs is also applied to commercial airliners. There is a separate language for aircraft but is the same idea- company logos, signs for passenger safety and indicators for service staff all have to carry important messages for the intended audience. Al these signs are also useful in a crash situation, allowing investigators to assess all the details of an incident and relay them quickly to both governing bodies and the public.

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