Can Jewar airport be India's cultural gateway?
Most of the airport terminals around the world are unfortunately designed to be machines with only one scope: to process the flow of travellers
Before the existence of air transportation, boats were the primary way of discovering new civilisations and worlds. Even now, boats are synonymous with integration among humans, travel and discovery. Air travel, however, has taken over a major chunk of this process.
India, a nation so rich in culture, history and tradition, needs to showcase it to the world with pride. The country needs cultural gateways and its airports can be showcased as such gateways.
However, most of the airport terminals around the world are unfortunately designed to be machines with only one scope: to process the flow of travellers in and out while simultaneously losing the identity of having a sense of place. The Jewar airport, the new project coming up in the neighbourhood of Delhi, has the potential to carry the mantle of India's cultural gateway.
The Incheon International Airport is an example of a cultural gateway to South Korea and as such it has been designed to celebrate the ritual of arrival and departure from the country.
While the terminal is a modern building, deploying the latest construction and operational technologies, it echoes the great building tradition of the Korean peninsula in its form and materials — with sloping roofs, compositional axial symmetry, traditional patterns of Korean retail street life, displays of Korean artefacts and art, and the use of steel, wood and concrete.
Bronze statue of sun god at Delhi airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Mashkawat.ahsan
Drawing on a vocabulary of forms and spaces in the tradition of Korean architecture, the airport is endowed with generous daylight throughout and has a significant, contemporary design, capturing the spirit of Korea.
Passengers arriving at an airport are eager to get a glimpse of the country that they have come to visit. A passenger terminal built in traditional architectural style stands out as the plane taxies past the terminal building and enters the parking bay. The passengers walk past the aerobridge and gaze admiringly turning their heads from side to side. This first impression of the display becomes a conversation piece for many meetings.
Stories are the essence of Vedic culture, art and tradition. Traditional art adorning the walls provide a quick capsule ride to the past. Music and dance rejuvenate the jet-lagged passengers while they are queued up to clear immigration or security.
Traditional Indian figureheads at Mumbai airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Pratishkhedekar
A cultural gateway also gives an opportunity to hop on a short ride to an ancient temple complex like Khajuraho or drive up to the Jim Corbett National Park. Regional airlines form a part of the hub-and-spoke which feeds this gateway the numbers in terms of passengers and cargo and then link to international destinations.
Japan’s new five-story international passenger terminal at Haneda is an attraction in itself. There is a huge Japanese food display. The 'Edo Market Place', after the old name for Tokyo, comprises the Edo Koji zone on the fourth floor and Tokyo Pop Town zone on the fifth. The facility offers some great 'Made in Japan' shopping and dining options — even if you don’t have a plane to catch!
The Edo Koji zone is modelled on a typical street from the Edo Period (1603–1868), lined with restaurants selling traditional Japanese dishes like sushi, sukiyaki, ramen and soba noodles and tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet). Restaurants serving fine Japanese cuisine are also available, such as Hyakuzen, which offers a changing menu of seasonal specialities. Walking around this area under its dynamic soaring roof gives the visitors a taste of the traditions and culture of old Japan. Many gift shops can also be found on this floor, offering items popular with foreign passengers: T-shirts with Japanese writing on them, traditional wrapping cloths (furoshiki), traditional paper goods and a wide array of bags.
Museum of Korean culture at Incheon International Airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Leonard J DeFrancisci
The fifth-floor Tokyo Pop Town presents a completely different side of Japan. Modelled on contemporary Tokyo, the facilities give the visitors an introduction to the cultural scene in Japan today. The 'Cool Zone' includes shops with an array of action figures and science-related toys. Perhaps the most striking feature is the Starry Cafe, the world’s very first airport planetarium-cafe. Over 40 million stars can be projected on the domed ceiling of the cafe.
A number of airports are in cities that never sleep. They are meeting places of hearts, cultures and generations. Airports have business and commercial districts attached to them. Aviation companies have assets and training centres positioned in the adjoining premises to facilitate service provided by them.
All in all, airports are gateways modelled on the traditional concepts of travel and glamourised by the glitz of technology, masked by architecture and cultures.