Stansted and the Nothing that Is

If architecture is frozen music then Stansted Airport is Coldplay in cryogenic suspension, a crystalline distillate of bland, the Platonic ideal of bland. The blandness of this place is awesome, transcendent. It benumbs the faculties and calcifies the superego to the point of nirvana. The purity and obstinacy of vision at work here suggests Joyce and the Wake or Wagner and the Ring Cycle. Huddled in the arrivals lounge in the 5 AM silence of my fellow deplanees – many of them unconscious, inert on their crappy peeling chairs like unplugged appliances – I can do nothing but lay my head back and let the infinitely repeating monochrome tesserae of the ceiling overwhelm me. It’s not dissimilar to an encounter with the Sublime. It’s like pulling a whitey inside a Tron schematic of the Sistine Chapel.

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Talkin’ monochrome: everything – everything, that is, intrinsic to the essence of the airport, the cafés and newsagents and information stands being mere prettiwork on the sepulchre – is a very specific shade of…well. Not white or grey, as might first appear. The colour of sick ghosts, rather, or scuffed pearls, or crusted cloud, or week-old snow compressed in a gutter. This is the colour Westeros will turn when winter finally comes. Like the airport itself, which is neither ugly nor not ugly, the colour is neither happy nor sad. The overall effect is one of a neutrality so static you it makes you feel briefly, unpleasantly ageless, clay-hearted and amber-blooded, petrified as a Pompeii pigeon.

(Speaking of. The lone bird I see clattering around the train station under the airport is Stansted-coloured too. Perhaps he was a crow once, made an evolutionary victim like one of those sooty chimney months and bleached chameleonically of his lustre.)

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This place is not designed for sentient life. Every human here is a desecration, and knows it. But even the smokers must shuffle back in eventually, back onto the mortal coil, whatever daylight they might carry secreted in the folds of their skin quickly scoured away by the fluorescents. The man who sells me my bus ticket has the look of a prisoner entrusted with every key but his own. His face is like Paul McCartney’s after a clout from a shovel. The air smells of ectoplasm and the coffee tastes of sweat.

Yet Stansted is noble in its nullity. It could never be torn down because it is not really there. It is an engineered void. It is a solid absence. It is an opus of mindless genius.

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