Airports and rail stations as cultural gateways

Holland Boulevard at Schipol Airport with Dutch art on display from the Rijksmuseum's collection

Why are airports and railway stations building sustainable hubs for culture, sport and science? What economic impact will this have for cities? Once established, how do they remain as global icons? These were questions that were asked at our 'Infrastructure 2020' forum held at Herbert Smith Freehills this month.

London City Airport with its first artist in residence, is working on a transformation of the international arrivals hall. Director of Corporate Affairs at London City Airport, Liam McKay, joined our first panel discussion alongside Dyan Crowther of HS1, Matthew Vickerstaff of the Infrastructure & Projects Authority and Nathan Marsh of Costain Group. Dyan spoke on keeping St Pancras International as a global icon following its well regarded success as an arts, restaurant and retail destination.

How are other European transport hubs influencing those in the UK? Schipol Airport opened its exhibition hall - Holland Boulevard - displaying Dutch art from the Rijksmuseum's collection as a way of introducing passengers to the cultural offer of the country, back in 2017.

Open 24 hours a day, passengers are invited to relax during their journey by taking a step out of the stress of travel, exploring art and culture. It stands as an introduction to 17th century Dutch painting, with portrait, landscape and seascape as genres. Travellers wanting to read can visit the new Airport Library, with around 500 books by well-known Dutch authors, translated into more than 40 languages. The NEMO Science Museum challenges passengers - young and old - to discover the relevance of science and technology to our lives.

Liam spoke about why it is so important for airports to develop their offers:

'At best most airports in Europe are fairly dull, shopping centres at best. We have a major development in progress with our Canadian shareholders investing nearly half a billion in our future. In the summer our whole arrivals hall will be taken up with a welcome to London mural and we delighted to be working with artist Anne Hardy who had a recent exhibition at Tate Britain. Anne is collecting world flora to inspire the exhibition at our international arrivals hall - reflecting the world trade element of our docklands location This is genuinely unique for airports and for London. We hope that it will inspire loyalty as we portray the best parts of London's sports, sciences and arts so that they want to come back.'

Chief Executive of HS1, Dyan Crowther explained how she works hard to talk and listen to customers to keep up St Pancras International's icon status as a station and destination:

'I love listening to what Liam and London City Airport are doing on the cultural side for travellers. We have a similar approach through our relationship with the Royal Academy of Arts and the Tracey Emin pink neon 'I want my time with you' artwork suspended at St Pancras above the Eurostar trains is part of that collaboration. We go to a different level with the Betjeman poetry competition and that's for school children, and the recent winner was a Syrian refugee school girl and this was tied in with the Fabian Peake-designed new war memorial. This brings different people into the station.

'St Pancras is five stations in one. A big challenge for infrastructure managers like ourselves is how do we make the experience for customers simple and enjoyable? So that you are not feeling you are rushing through. If you talk to retailers what they are selling is the experience, not rows of products. This is what we in the public sector have to do is and that is improve the experience for customers.'

While the number of tourism flights into London City Airport is increasing and bringing much needed money into London, there remains the question of how to reduce pollution:

'There's a really important message and it is this - we are all in it together. There is no one single industry that bears all the responsibility. Real collaboration with government and the GLA is required by the industry to create a step change. Last Friday I was up at Cranfield University talking about the future of flight. The aviation industry is up for change, and we will cut emissions over time. My ambition is for the UK to spearhead change in the future of flight. Why can't the next generation help us make the future of flight happen here?

'We will have to cut emissions by embracing innovation. Manufacturers like Airbus and Rolls Royce, and airports like Heathrow and Gatwick are working together on this. We have a history of flight innovation in the UK so why can't we achieve this? We want to work with the younger generation so that they have the skills to contribute to this. We will be able to create more jobs and continue to provide connectivity, and benefit business in a greener way.'

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