29 Sep 2012

Barajas: overlit, overheated, underused, underwhelming

No more can you judge a city by its airport, than a book by its cover.

But perhaps you can judge a Eurocrisis by an airport and if so, Barajas, is surely where you’d start.

And judgment commences even before landing at Madrid’s absurd,  bloated monstrosity – designed by Britain’s Richard Rogers.

From the air the still sun-parched high Spanish plateau is crisscrossed by empty, unfinished motorways, slip roads reaching out in hope across the dun terrain, only to end abruptly, nowhere.

Ghost highways take nobody to half-built groups of highrise flats. Around them, mantis-like, tall, silent, motionless cranes do nothing at all. Clumps of empty apartment blocks where the builders clocked off months and sometimes years ago.

Concrete apron
Barajas Airport itself, one giant folly to Euro-borrowing on a grand scale against a dream that has never come true. Quite probably never could.

The concrete apron so vast it is impossible to see the end of it at some points.

Arriving means a long bus journey over the concrete plain to a terminal so over-lit and underused it feels unreal. Passengers face a major hike however they come, long concourses merely bring you to several escalators up or down. They in turn will only deposit you at a transit train.

An ode to inefficiency
Then its a journey by train – perhaps a mile or more – and a two-way underground track, to another terminal. More long walks. More escalators. Lifts. More signs. Walk. And walk. Escalators again. Walk.

Then a colossal baggage reclaim area which alone would engulf a Heathrow terminal. I counted 18 carousels. Eighteen. You could fit several football pitches in here.

Waste of space
Overlit, overheated, underused, underwhelmed. And inefficient: the baggage has so far to come you’ve inevitably now got a long wait in this vast, empty place where the wasting of space on a massive scale appears to have been the central stipulation of the design brief.

Sound like I’m moaning?

Not a bit. I’m fascinated. In a country facing an almost inevitable bail-out for living beyond any notion of economic reality all this is a gift for any visiting reporter.

And they tell me on Twitter there are any number of equally pointless airports across Spain: Ciudad Real, Malaga, Castillon – all making wonderful architectural statements (whilst actually being punishment centres for human self-loading cargo).

No, you cannot judge a book by its cover but you can see the broken dream of the Euro in the gleaming ghost carousels of Barajas.

Tweets by @alextomo