The relationship between technology and its impact on human experience has never been more poignant than in a world where we have the instant ability to access information from a myriad of sources, literally at our fingertips.
The relationship of this interface and our emotional health was introduced by John Naisbitt in his 1982 book Megatrends, as the dichotomy between high tech and high touch. Further explored in his 1999 best seller High Tech/High Touch: Technology and our Search for Meaning, his core premise states that technology provides us real-time information, but disconnects us from authentic experience. Correspondingly, high touch, or the search for the real, is a natural counterpoint.
Since that time, the discussion has been taken up in numerous sectors such as customer service, marketing, distance learning, counseling, banking and retail. In travel, the increased popularity of adventure travel and eco-travel represent a way to unplug from electronic media and get back to a hands-on experience.
In the modern airport environment, technology enables pertinent information to guide and clarify the journey through the airport using beacons, interactive FIDS and interactive mapping. It also enables more direct, more empowered processing with tools such as mobile passes, self-bag drop, proximity enabled kiosks, self-boarding gates, biometric access controls and on demand baggage reclaim.
Recent research shows consumers and industry leaders confirm the demand for technology enabled techniques to improve the passenger experience through empowerment and personalization. Consumers and industry executives both identify the top priority for improving boarding and in-flight experience over the next 10 years as being the ability to board without manual intervention using electronic data exchange.
This might seem to slant the desired airport experience towards high tech.
“In a time when technology is obscuring the real while simultaneously exaggerating it, we are reassured by the authentic,” says Naisbitt.
Correspondingly, high touch in the airport experience takes on a more poignant significance in the attempt to comprehensively respond to human need. Authentic experience in the airport is being represented by such diverse approaches as regional design expression, locavore food and beverage, curated retail offerings, naturalistic materials, integrated landscape, natural daylight, health and wellness and integrated art.
At Chicago O’Hare, an indoor hydroponic garden grows greens for airport restaurants, while providing a snippet of the rural, plus a delightful light and sound experience. At JFK, JetBlue is growing an outdoor garden. At Oslo Gardermoen, the extensive use of local woods for structure and finishes creates a unique warmth, while representing an indigenous product. At Denver, the fabric building form overtly references the Rocky Mountain landscape. At San Francisco, a curatorial staff of 30 maintain an extensive curated art program and sophisticated museum exhibits.
In the same way the dichotomy between high tech and high touch has created ripples impacting our global culture. It will be represented in the design goals of the modern passenger terminal. Of necessity, a comprehensive terminal design will represent the objective and the subjective, the grounded and the lofty, the practical and the visionary, the realist in us and the idealist. To be comprehensively successful, it will be responsive to the broad range of human need, an essential goal for any humanistic building.
J Lee Glenn biography
J Lee Glenn is Associate Principal and Director of Aviation Design at HKS Architects. He recently spoke on the dichotomy between technology and authentic experience at the Passenger Terminal Expo in Cologne, Germany. His clients have included many of the world's busiest airports such as Dallas/Fort Worth, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Atlanta. Lee is currently leading the design of San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 1 Boarding Area B, combining High Tech and High Touch elements in an aviation project highly responsive to passenger needs.