George Orwell called it Airstrip One. It was in what “had been called England or Britain”. This was the homeland of Winston Smith, in his novel 1984. Not to be outdone, Lord Foster has set about designing Airstrip One, with help from Halcrows, as engineers, and Volterra, as economic consultants. Their report makes some good points: IF air traffic is to continue growing THEN London will need a new airport and IF London is to have a new airport THEN the Thames Estuary is the best location. Furthermore, one could hardly do better than Lord Foster as the designer. But he should have worked with a good landscape architect and I would recommend James Corner for the job. His firm’s name is ‘Field Operations’ and this is what the airport needs. The Foster design looks like an aircraft carrier moored in the Estuary. It will face the bitterest opposition from the people of Kent. The would-be developers would have a better chance with Boris Johnson’s Island Airport location. Could anything be done to improve the landscape acceptability of the Isle of Grain site? One thing is for sure: they could have done a very much better job with the water margin. It should be beautiful and ecological – providing a very special habitat for birds which do not have the habit of bringing down aircraft. Norman Foster has worked with some good landscape architects in his time but in essence he is an object-oriented designer, not a space-oriented designer. On this occasion, I think he has spent a lot of money and diminished the chances of an airport being built in the Thames Estuary. The protestors may come to think him for this and I remind him of the old proverb:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.