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In this month's issue of the always enjoyable British design magazine Icon, George Pendle considers the airport carpet:
As the world's largest interior visual design medium, airport carpets have spread a multi-faceted but uniform aesthetic to the furthest reaches of the globe. In their geometric precision, sensitivity to colour, and ability to absorb and hide stains, airport carpets are aesthetically unique. These aren't carpets but canvases upon which we walk.
The carpet above is from Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona (PHX). The whorls of the design apparently allude to the frequent wind vortices that make PHX one of more dangerous airports in the world (Pendle notes that 60 aircraft have been lost since the airport opened in 1935).
The carpet at LF Wade International Airport in Bermuda (BDA) is "a three frame Jacquard Wilton with a 100 percent BCF Nylon BASF-Zeftron 2000 ZX yarn"—a classic of the genre.
With regret, Pendle reports that airport carpets are an endangered species, increasingly replaced with linoleum and tile. They are, curiously, another one of the unanticipated casualties of the "War on Terror."
In the wake of 9/11, security became such an issue in airports around the world that carpet manufacturers found it increasingly difficult not just to install carpets but to maintain them.
Tom Ellis at Tandus Carpets [a Dalton, GA-based airport carpet manufacturer] laments the fact that, due to increased security checks and stringent regulations on what can be brought into an airport, his workers often have little more than four hours a day to install or replace carpeting. Since the work has to be done at night, the cost of overtime alone causes costs to rapidly spiral.
Some carpets eschew abstraction in favor of local color. Pendle tells the story of Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport in Oregon, where the carpet features a Prince of Wales check in reference to a secret visit to the town by Edward VIII (then Prince of Wales) in the late 1930s to open a Girl Scout camp.
The carpet above is from Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia (KUL), which Pendle explains is maintained by a "bomoh," or witchdoctor.
When KUL becomes ripped or torn the bomoh performs a "main puteri," or healing ritual, for in Malaysia it is believed that carpets that are in a state of disrepair have been possessed by Ahtran, the raggedy god. Despite these preventative measures, KUL is known as a bad luck carpet and is blamed for the airport's high rate of flight delays.
The sea turtles in the carpet above are an appropriate choice for Lynden Pindling International Airport in the Bahamas (NAS), combining stain resistance with a soothing reference to the island's turquoise waters.
Pendle's reflections on the frequently inoffensive and understated nature of airport carpet patterns reminded me of their aesthetically opposed, yet equally spillage-camouflaging, counterparts in Las Vegas casinos, which are deliberately designed to over-stimulate gamblers into all-night betting sprees.
In any case, visit Icon to enjoy Pendle's article in full—it's well worth a read. And next time you're on the road, look down at the carpet beneath your feet: As Pendle eloquently points out, you will be rewarded with a "knotted kaleidoscope of shapes and colours, a flat-weaved cornucopia of scintillating signs and sigils, a polypropylene sea awash with dark and hidden beauty."