New airport: an excellent opportunity missed
So after much fanfare, the new airport has opened. However, I have remained a constant and staunch critic of this project since inception after seeing the first Aecon rendition. An idea initiated by the Progressive Labour Party and politically developed by the One Bermuda Alliance. This was a ploy to control the direction and solutions for the new airport outcome, and to garner political credit for jobs for Bermudians.
However, foreign workers constructed a vast majority of the airport, which defies their narrative. Further, it lacked transparency and pushed on us without apology as a fait accompli with an arrogant, “we know better” mentality.
In response to their arrogance, I designed and defended an alternate airport that I felt better represented our is
land and people's interests. Primarily to showcase what a Bermudian-inspired airport could be. My resolution by intent was a smaller airport, with a distinctively Bermuda flavour, representing our heritage and architecture.
The design also played heavily on planting, internal and external relationships regarding views as part of the experience. A truly Bermudian experiential design that left you in no doubt where you were departing or entering. Indeed, these considerations should have been of paramount importance as our culture and heritage's distinctive markers. This solution was then debated in the House of Assembly by the PLP, then the Opposition. And, I hasten to add, not because they like me, but because they instead saw a Bermudian-generated resolution that made a modicum of common sense.
So now I was returning home for the first time after nearly a year away to experience this new facility for the first time. I mentally tried to be open-minded. And I now offer my opinion of the experience.
We landed per usual on a cloudy, wintry day as the plane pulled up to the new jetway. I was already reminiscing the countless times I had arrived home as the doors opened, and you were greeted with a waft of local air and an immediate outside connection to our balmy environment as you stepped off.
However, this time I disembarked into a soulless metal tunnel with no windows or relationship to the outside world. It then spilled us into a hallway of uninspired dead space and stairs to the lower level. Again, there was no redeeming personality or memorable fit or finish that might suggest where you were, except a few pictures.
The experience was strictly utilitarian, without a notion of the external Bermuda natural environment. We followed the corridor that is too narrow, passing an ominous set of one-way mirrored glass before entering into the large reception area. Surprisingly, you cannot see outside because the windows are up some 15 feet above the floor level — only a peek at the sky.
After stopping at the first Covid-19 checkpoint to identify, you had requisite testing paperwork. I proceeded to the Immigration lines with a new mechanical, gated checkpoint that is not an entirely efficient or intuitive solution. The immigration officer was calling out from behind his workstation on how to get through to almost every passenger looking confused. The big plus in this area was the giant screen that distracted you, showing an array of compelling Bermuda images. That was a good idea well executed.
As I looked up at the voluminous ceiling, I just shook my head. The much touted “Bermuda kites” were fake kites, with hummers going the wrong way and printed cloth stretched over unrealistic frames. They were not Bermuda kites, and what a missed opportunity. My thought would have been, the many proud and talented Bermuda kite makers could have their kites juried and awarded a place in our airport. This event could be a yearly competition where the winners get their kites added to the collection. Then, of course, what makes our kites so fabulous are the colours and sunlight that backlights them like a stain-glassed window. Nope, no backlighting non-translucent material! And no Bermuda kites. A complete missed opportunity.
So now I go to the duty-free to get my bottle of liquor. I can see I will need it about now! The shop is very well done and looks well above the lacklustre personality of its surroundings. However, heaven help them if they ever have a rush. The process to purchase is slow and tedious, and not well thought out from an efficiency standpoint. It also seems out of place in the context.
Not to worry, now I have Customs to deal with and am now shepherded into that area for further scrutiny. Again, this was a soulless space with no view of the outside world. However, my Customs officer was very pleasant and helpful. I mentioned how depressing the bare walls were and a missed opportunity to showcase various local artists' and photographers' works with curated shows. Maybe local school art competitions on Bermuda life, heritage and culture could be mounted? Another complete miss!
I walk out the doors thinking that was a genuinely lacklustre experience from start to finish.
Now I enter the final gauntlet of Covid-19 enforcers. Three groups of clinically clad staff dutifully reviewed my documentation. Each checking and shuffling me to the next point once satisfied. Finally, I am given my entry test with my wristband firmly attached. I now think that the only positive for Bermudians is that the present pandemic created far more jobs than required at the taxpayers’ expense.
I then exited into the rain to wait for my transportation that the traffic host called up somewhere at the old airport. That seemed pretty dumb to me, with the hundreds of empty car spaces right in front. There is no cover when you get into your taxi. Overall, I was completely underwhelmed.
What about leaving Bermuda? Well, again, I arrived in the rain, and there is no complete cover on egress from your vehicle! I entered the large hall and looked out the glass windows at a sea of tarmac parking and an unimaginative water feature ruining the only good view beyond. So, not well planned. Again, the space is soulless and uninspired. I found the cheap-looking, extruded plastic longtails and seagulls — strung by the hundred without any imaginative thought or design — just occupied their place in a mediocre space. “Fake” Bermuda is what came to mind.
The furniture and layout are devoid of anything that speaks “Bermudian” or is design-forward. However, checking in was normal like any airport globally, and it appears the same mentality has become universally ingrained. Once, Bermudians were revered for their island friendliness and personality. Now the traveller must endure a complacent and robotic command and be controlled like sheep herded to the chagrin of those in authority.
You funnel to the departure-only area, where your boarding pass is checked, and you are then directed to the US or international departure areas. US Customs is another soulless space that has the walls covered with thoughtful and appropriate images of the island in an imaginative display. I enjoyed that experience as I stood in line waiting. Further, the US officers were courteous and polite as they checked me through.
Once through the gauntlet of administration, I entered the long and typical-looking departure lounge that mostly looks out at the bleak, expansive runway. The only side view offered was of the rundown, old Bierman estate. The seating and accommodations were adequate, but the restaurant could have been anywhere. I found this to be a wholly mediocre experience.
Where is the “Bermudian” in any part of this development?
Finally, the flight is boarding, and I re-entered the long, windowless tunnel spilling out to the waiting plane before taking my seat. Then given the usual safety speech and the plane backs up for what seems an eternity, almost to the old airport's parking area. It is clear that turning planes around was not fully addressed.
Anyway, I leave thinking what a massive waste of money, where half the amount spent could have created twice the results using the old airport buildings with a gut renovation and thoughtful additions. I remain unconvinced and feel sorry such an excellent opportunity to display all that is Bermuda was missed.
• Andrew Outerbridge is an environmental planner with a focus on sustainable design. He is a 40-year veteran in the construction and design sector with an extensive background in Bermuda architecture. His experience as a planner for the Bermuda Government gives perspective to his vision of a better Bermuda future