ContextMalta International Airport receives more than five million passengers each year from three different continents and more than 90 airports. It has won awards for providing the best service and security for its size.
Civil aviation was first introduced in Malta in the 1920s, while under British rule. At the time, Malta’s first airfield was at Ta’ Qali and there were others such as in ?al Far. These suffered a lot of damage during WWII and so civil operations later centred on the airfield of Luqa.The present terminal was completed and started operating in 1992, with the shutting down of the old Luqa airport terminal, after providing a service for 35 years. The first terminal was just two floors in total, providing basic facilities such as an eatery, post office, cable and wireless office, and a viewing balcony. The different amenities and commercial outlets that have increased over time are a result of the airport turning into more of a destination in itself, very different from when it first opened in the late 50s.The two main terminal operations are the passenger services and the retail facilities. The airport also rents general office space in the form of info counters/stalls/cabins to airlines and other related travel operators.
For the purpose of this paper, the ‘Departures Terminal’ experienced by the visitor at ground floor will be discussed. The paper will also take into consideration the spaces accessible to the public. The departures terminal in truth is an area that expands beyond what is experienced by the visitor, since it includes secured spaces that are blocked from public access; areas open only to boarding passengers; office spaces accessible by the workers; and other secure areas.It is important to note that there are renovation works being carried out at the time of writing, including reorganisation of locations of spaces. The security screening area previously part of the ground floor layout has been permanently relocated to the floor above, as part of the ‘Terminal Reconfiguration Project’.
This project has been an ongoing renovation project and will conclude before the beginning of summer 2018. Part of this renovation project includes the addition of eight check-in desks and the provision of new bathroom facilities.THE PHYSICALThe Layout The majority of the departures terminal is dedicated to the check-in hall, which can cater for large queues of people, sometimes kept company by non-passengers. This area is completely barrier free except for the queue control measures. The check-in counters are being extended as shown on the plan (till the back of the staircase that leads to the new security check above).
The centre of the terminal is therefore a barren space, in terms of structures and facilities, except for the columns that form part of the building structure. Most of the activity occurring at ground floor is found along the edges of this central space – where it is animated with active frontages, creating a more dynamic edge than having, say, an empty waiting room enclosed by walls. So, in this way, the outline of the ‘room’ dedicated to the check-in hall is actually frontages to other ‘rooms’/spaces such as shops, airline outlets, cafes and so on, as described on the plan. These attract different users according to the size and nature of the service they are providing. One of the most recent additions in the list is the MIA Information point – this desk provides a focal point within the otherwise ’empty’ central space, as everything else is pushed towards the perimeter. It is also placed in a very critical position, visible from any point within the large space and immediately recognisable for what it is. Outside & Inside As can be understood from the plan, the enclosed area between the immediate exterior of the terminal (the pavement) and the interior space (the check-in hall surrounded by frontages) is a midway point between these spaces that was probably included in the design as a required safety and security measure. Passing through this space, this is where one notices an immediate temperature difference between inside and outside in extreme weather conditions.
In summer this area is not included in the cooling system of the building, even though it is very much sheltered and ‘inside’; in winter it is not mechanically heated. It provides a few formal seating options intended for users waiting for their transport but is otherwise a purely transitional space acting as the barrier between inside and outside. The automatic doors and remaining glazing soften the otherwise harsh physical barrier between inside and in. The glazing is also tinted creating a sense of more privacy from the exterior of the ‘terminal’. It is also important to point out that ‘in-between’ space creates a more quite area which is noticeable the second one steps into it and possibly takes a seat. Yoshinobu Ashihara discusses these threshold spaces in Japanese architecture, particularly private homes, in relation to the interior and exterior layout of a building in ‘The Hidden Order’ (1992). In this same way, this ‘middle space’ is a non-place that was not intended to serve a direct use but functions in reinforcing the barrier between outside and in.
Presently, however, the food and beverage stall (Dr. Juice) has replaced a section of the physical barrier between the interior space and this intermediary space. This has resulted in a conjoining of the previously separated spaces. In this way this space has started to be perceived as more of an extension of the interior space that is partly secluded and enclosed. The installation of the stall meant the removal of glazing, automated doors and partitions; and having the stall be open to serving customers at both sides of these separate spaces results in them being read as one and changes the functioning of this area in relation to the surrounding spaces and their nature. The Movement The open plan layout of the departures terminal means that one has direct views of almost the entire space, and of the active frontages, from different points of view. The space allows for free movement across and easy access to the perimeter frontages. Main flows of people occur along these frontages and the perimeter of the space; whilst people standing, waiting or gathered in groups tend to group themselves close to an edge or a building column, never standing in the middle of the open space; except for the sole purpose of queuing for check-in.
Multiple entry/exit points provide for freedom of choice and increase the permeability of the barrier between indoors and outdoors.The MaterialsThe surfaces that contribute greatly to the experience of the space are probably the floor and the ceiling because of the shear amount exposed to the users. Since there is so much of the floor left exposed in the central open space of the check in hall, free from obstructions up to the high ceiling, the height emphasises the vastness of the terminal with its extended plan. The space could be described as partially divided – the structural columns acting as intervals between the queue lines and the more transitory space for example (refer to plan). The use of glass to obstruct access to the secured passport check point maintains the degree of openness of the entire terminal; the designer did not want to take away from this feeling of vastness and enhanced the connection with this secured space by making it more exposed to the public than it was before renovations. The commercial frontages’ design and selection of materials are left to the decision of the occupier; most choosing to create their own frontage (whether seating COSTA or controlled access entry points AGENDA according to their personal preference, relating it to their brand or theme.
The use of hard surfaces and harsh bright lighting are the standard for airports – they are normally not designed with the intention of attracting people and wanderers to it as a destination, but functions purely as the point between airside and landside. The lighting is designed to deceive reality – standing inside with one’s back to the front of the building, one cannot determine whether it is day or night, gloomy or sunny; and the heavily controlled temperature environment adds to this sterilisation of space. It detaches the person from the outside environment, creating a new kind of place entirely, designed to be the in-between of where the person is leaving or arriving to (in this case Malta) and where they are arriving from or travelling to.The Senses When analysing the senses, one can start to understand certain different elements as perceived by the individual.SIGHTWhen discussing the sense of sight, certain elements put together are there to encourage the traveller, to proceed to the check-in desk, rather than stay on and linger.
The placement of the skin of the building, the main glass door together with the queue barriers, seem to pull the flyer towards the check-in point. This of course does not always work out as large groups of people then create queues. HEARINGThe sense of hearing is highly affected by the number of people making use of the airport, and relates to peak hours of the terminal. There are a number of different areas that have different levels of sound. The loudest would have to be the check-in hall at peak hours due to MIA announcements, people talking, groups gathering etc. On a lesser level of loudness, one can find the food and beverage operators. This is due to the sounds created by people chatting, the background music, sounds of people typing, coffee machines noises and frothing of milk, etc.
A space which could be considered very quiet is that of the bookstore. Although traditionally bookstores tend to be quiet in nature, only a part of it furthest from the source of activity seems to be totally separate from the check in hall. This is the magazine section, because the majority of the bookstore is not physically enclosed from the check-in hall, and also caters for last minute travel essentials that travellers might have forgotten to pack.
Thus it is not just the avid book readers that make use of this space. The most noiseless place that one finds at the departure terminal is that of the previously mentioned intermediate space. It is silent mostly since it is hidden from the check-in hall. SMELLThe most obvious smells permeating the space and appealing to the appetite of a person is the result of the presence of the food and beverage operators.
A lesser noticeable smell is the smell of print and books in the bookstore appealing to the bookworms engrossed in the aisles. Meanwhile some smells that probably go unnoticed are those occurring in the check-in queues during peak hours, as one can recognise distinct body odours of people waiting in line with them because of the close proximity of the queues, be it overly perfumed or otherwise. TASTEThe sense of taste is one which is closely related to the sense of smell as taste is not possible without a functioning sense of smell.
Taste is closely related to food and thus these senses are mostly tapped into at the food and beverage stores, unless individuals purchase food items and wander across the terminal.TOUCHThe sense of touch is very closely related to the type of material found in the spaces. The two strongest contrasting spaces would have to be those found in the check-in hall and the largest F&B operator: COSTA coffee. The materials used in these different spaces contrast greatly, as the check-in hall could be described as being cold due to the use of marble and tile flooring mixed with the metal poles creating the queue separation between one lane and another.
On the other hand, the use of materials at the cafeteria makes use of warmer materials like wood and textiles creating a cosy environment for the user.The Social DynamicsThe PeopleThe people present at the Departures Terminal can be sub-divided primarily in three categories being; the travellers, non-travellers, and the ones who work at the airport. The non-travellers can be subcategorized further in another two groups being; those accompanying those travelling, while the others are those making use of the airport retail and food and beverage facilities. The workers can also be divided into two different categories; those employees of the Malta International Airport and those working in the private operators of retail and food and beverageThe UsesIt is interesting to see how people make spaces their own, as some spaces tend to serve something other than their intended purpose. The clearest example is that of the entrance space of the departures terminal. Rather than being a clear path for the people exiting and entering, it has evolved into more of a meeting point for traveling groups or companions, before heading off together for check in. The meeting point at the entrance works as a barrier between what is left behind before traveling and what is yet to come. This space can be described as the ‘Ma’ like in Japanese culture, as it is not created by compositional elements.
This space truly becomes the interval space for all travellers. This ‘Ma’ can be explained as the emptiness full of possibilities, like a promise yet to be fulfilled. Other spaces that serve differently to their prime intentions within the check-in hall are the columns and the floor around them. Besides acting as gathering points they also serve as resting places for people whose flights are delayed for periods of time. This happens as there’s are not enough seating places for people to make use of during waiting time. They also become places where people take refuge when they need to add something to their luggage or look for an already-packed item needed at the airport. The luggage wrapping booth, which surrounds one of the structural columns at the main entrance point, also becomes a meeting place for people to gather around. Spaces which very commonly do not only serve their intended purpose are places such as food and beverage operators.
The cafeteria and juice bar, with their ample seating options, gather people together where they can relax before a flight, catch up with loved ones before departing, or simply take a short break. They become places for last goodbyes before moving to the security check. They also double as temporary work spaces for people traveling on business and working on the go, partly because of the WiFi service provided. The Time/ Regularity of ActivitiesThe Departure Terminal within the Malta International Airport functions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is because of its constant schedules flights departing and arriving. It is thus a busy airport for its size as it does not only cater for AirMalta flights but also flights from other airline companies.
Through our analysis we understood that there are two peak points during the day for flying out of Malta. These occur during 10hrs-12hrs and 16hrs-18hrs. As airline companies recommend that travellers are at the departures terminal two hours prior to flight departure, this would make the departures terminal busiest between 8hrs-10hrs and 14hrs-16hrs.
The different days of the week differ in terms of peak times and weekends tend to be busier, not to mention seasonal changes affecting flight schedules.The operating hours of the Malta International Airport led to the private retail and food and beverage operators to also extend their opening hours. This happened as to attract more clients of all flights occurring during the day.
One can note that time spent at the departure terminal is a very scarce commodity for those who are flying. Time is scarce for the traveller on the go, and this is exploited by the presence of various commercial operators trying to attract their attention. The time spent at the terminal is limited, so waiting around for departure can be regarded as being a waste of this time – but it is also an integral part of the whole travelling experience. Two types of traveller were witnessed at the departures lounge. One kind are those travelling with few personal, physical belongings such as tickets, passports and credit cards. Theses tend to constantly check their pockets to see whether these items are still there. The other kind are those families travelling with young children.
They too tend to be constantly on the look out to where their children are and what they are doing. The element of fear of losing something or someone in a time frame which is already short adds to the nerves that one might already have when travelling. Although the Malta International Airport is not as large as airports in larger cities, one still finds a wide range of commercial operators, which in turn make waiting times less uneventful. Airports, specifically departure terminals, have not always had this element of consumption.
Historically, airports have been considered as non-places, connectors between point A (departure) and point B (arrival). It was through the shopping experience that a non-place was turned into a ‘third place’ as coined by Ray Oldenburg, where the third place is the social surrounding – different from the two custom social environments of home and the workplace. These where later exploited by retail companies as to what goods are provided. In this short amount of time spent at the departure terminal one would require to make quick sales with large return income. Usually this is done my means of luxury items or over priced goods. This shows how time scarcity at the departure terminal had an effect on the goods provided for the traveller. IconographyThe illustrative characteristics and imagery found in departure terminals confirm that the airport is a concoction of social contexts of everyday life.
It takes on a quasi-autonomous existence as a system of signification. Icons signifying toilets, banks, duty-free shops, departure gates, etc. on are almost uniform in airports all over the world. These are in the majority non-verbal and easy to understand; almost reminiscent of traffic signs. On the other hand, these symbols are clearly interpreted into pre-existing frames of reference, which are culturally variable.The Geographical Context One can say that if you have seen one departure terminal, you have seen them all.
Although they are not identical, they relate to the same set of functions. Thus, once one learns how one functions, all the rules that have been learnt from one can be transferred and applied to another one. Departure terminals are in themselves transit lounges, which to a larger extent are not places in a cultural sense. This is partially why the geographical context of an airport does not or should not affect its use or experience. This is because, transit lounges are non-lieux as described by Augé (1992) – non-places.
The Malta International Airport is vacant of cultural symbolism, which makes it impossible to interpret as “national”. It is thus “international” and possible for everyone to be “free” and exemplifies virtues of individualism. Unlike bus terminals or park and rides, airports are usually located away from city centres. This already signifies that they are not part of the society they represent. Airports seem to connect cultures but are never part of one. Ulf Hannerz (1990) describes airports as “global switchboards” and compares them to international business hotels. Another reason for the Malta International Airport’s Location comes also from its long historical background. The site was one designated to be far away from the ‘city’ or urban conurbation of the time.
And hence its designated site was in the southern region of Malta. As time went by the small villages in the southern area of Malta started growing too. They grew to a point where the buffer space between the Airport limits and villages started to blur.
The problem with this growth is that not many amenities were incorporated within this growth. Over the years, as this growth was not designed for and the needs of the villagers where not accommodated for, these people started making use the airport’s retail and food and beverage. This is now actually being catered for within the limits of the Malta International Airport, as the new Skyparks Business Centre is to continue expanding. This in turn will start generating more people to the area and a new culture can start to be injected.ConclusionAlthough the departure terminal is the main area of study within this paper it can be said that the whole airport may be considered as a transit lounge (a waiting-room) between two places.
The airport itself is not considered a place. The discussion always arises as to whether one person has actually visited a city or country when one has only seen the airport (through layovers), and in the majority of cases, one comes to an agreement that one has not. As one sets foot into the airport, one enters a cultural void – a third, global culture. A word often used to describe this significance of such non-places as compared to the thick contexts of ordinary life is ‘sterile’.
Social lives are not reproduced in airports: even the most avid travellers spend only a fraction of their life in airports.