Just writing this post awaiting my flight home from Logan to Heathrow and reflecting on a wonderful day and a half in a very autumnal Harvard. I was at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, invited by the organisers Sonja Duempelmann and Charles Waldheim. The event was far bigger than I realised. It was held in the Piper auditorium a large two tier conference theatre packed for most of the time, especially during Peter Galison’s opening talk on the Thursday night. So a real privilege to be there and hear people like Galison and David Pascoe, and to present in a panel consisting of Nathalie Roseau, Dominick Pisano and Anke Ortlepp. The conference had grown out of an exhibition also titled Airport Landscape, part of which explored some of the ways airports and airfields are being redeveloped following their closure. Delving into the airport’s ecological relationships the exhibition was also particularly historically sensitive to the ways airport’s have been conceived since their inception.
It was particularly gratifying to hear the late cultural geographer Denis Cosgrove’s name iterated on more than one occasion – he had actually written on Heathrow’s landscape in the 90’s. I had the chance to reflect on this a bit and consider other ways geographers are discussing landscape, for instance in John Wylie’s assertion of its tensional qualities. And it was a more literal tension that I wanted to explore in relation to airports situated in crisis and emergency.
My talk, as I mentioned in a previous post, was on how airports function in wide-scale emergency evacuations (not of the airport itself). With excellent research support from Rachael Squire, I focused on the highly uneven evacuation of foreign nationals during the first few weeks of the unrest and civil war in Libya, in 2011. The talk explored, through the unfolding timeline and in some detail, the architecture of this process, involving airspace management and territorial incursions, crisis management techniques, no-fly zones, non-combatant evacuation operations and state cooperation (especially in Malta), as well as the highly inequitable nature of this kind of ‘evacuation’.
I’m not sure yet how these stories fit into the wider scheme of the research I’m currently doing, or the narrative, but I’m hoping it will be an important thread in an eventual long-term book project on evacuation as a political technology.