Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Non-Place and the Denver Airport

On a recent trip to Austin, Texas I had a lengthy layover in the Denver airport. The layover was very long and tedious and allowed me to walk around the airport several times to gain a sense of the destinations, people and airlines that were constantly moving in and out of the airport. As with all airports the groups that were flying out of Denver were heterogeneous in composition and size. The variety of people varied along ethnic, racial, class and gender lines. During my several trips around the airport in an attempt to keep myself busy I started to think about Marc Augé’s idea of "non-place" and place (yes Denver airport is that boring). Although I had a relatively limited remembrance of his ideas I do not recall strongly that the airport was a central example of his idea of "non-place" based on its role as a place of transience. defined by “supermodernity”. Moreover,  airports lack the required significance and stability for it to be considered a “place”. Although the idea made sense at the time of my reading of Augé’s article I was struck at the dissonance I experienced when trying to apply his theory to my experience in the airport. In theory as described in Augé’s article the airport is a place which lacks a distinctive sense of place as its user and residents are highly fluid, and temporal. As a result a consistent element of place is theoretically missing from the airport. However, this fluidity and lacking in distinctive characteristics due the transience of flyers was not by my experience in the airport. Firstly Augé’s ideas are a very generalized assumption of a monolithic character of airports around the world. What struck me most strongly about the Denver Airport was how rooted in a distinctive place it was compared to this idea of transience as described in Augé’s article.

 Firstly in the bathroom there was a sign declaring the bathroom to be a tornado shelter. Apart from the surprise of seeing this sign I was struck by how the materiality of the building and its rooting in place was reinforced by this declaration. The building took on a far mote concrete and lasting image in my mind. Secondly and most importantly the composition of the passengers moving throughout the airport was rooted in a distinctive and particular place. Many of the flights were going to cities in the Midwest and the Great Plains. As a result some of the passengers had cowboy hats, cowboy boots, and hunting camo. I was rarely see any of these items while living and Toronto and thus it became that the Denver was a not non-space but strongly associated with particular places in America. The airport and its function at that moment was not defined by transience but instead defined by its placement in a particular geographical location in America. Thus, the idea of place being tied to the airport over one of non-place seemed far more helpful in understanding the airport at that moment. That is not to suggest that transience was not an important feature of the airport but to ignore the idea of place within the airport ignores its particular position in a distinct geographic and cultural part of America.   


Blogger Dan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/16/2014 5:02 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I want to make it clear that I'm neither fully defending Auge's concepts nor am I trying to argue away your experience of a place I've never been.

Ok, Auge defines place as never fully erased and non-place as never totally completed (1995: 79). If we take these definitions and apply them to the Denver International Airport which has all these neat murals which give the building character and yet was designed with renovations in mind and serves as the 15th busiest airport in the world.

I don't disagree with you that the DIA is a poor example of why airports are non-places but I don't think it's clear that the DIA is irrefutably a P-L-A-C-E.

4/16/2014 5:09 PM  

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