Goodbye to All That | The Sad, Bizarre Auction of Heathrow’s Terminal 1
Shortly after the auction began, the crowd cheered for a man who bought a $7,000 clock
If you take the Piccadilly line west out of London, you eventually come to the terminus at Heathrow Airport. The various signs and displays are at odds; some refer to a stop called “Terminals 1, 2 & 3,” and some just “Terminals 2 & 3.” From the Tube, you see Terminal 1’s afterlife: the structure itself will stand for a few more months, but since 2015 it’s been an inaccessible hulk. Last weekend, the ghosts were removed from the shell: the entire contents of the terminal—desks, signs, decorations—put up for auction at the nearby Thistle Hotel.
Auctions feed on the hysteria of crowds; their atmosphere is a strange, pressurized thing. Within minutes of this one beginning, people cheered as a man paid nearly £5,000 ($6,979) for a clock. The suited auctioneers patrolled the room throughout, each mixing bonhomie and a bouncer’s menace. Over 3,500 people were registered to bid online, so most participants were invisible, but there were over 100 people in the room itself: paunchy fifty-something men in blandly-striped polo shirts; twenty-something girls in floral summer dresses and aviator shades.
Airports are classic examples of Marc Augé’s “non-places”: spaces designed to be used, passed through, inhabited only on borrowed time. The air is filtered, the floor is polished to glass; all design is minimized and streamlined, as if it were overseen by Adolf Loos. Most of the auctioned pieces had exactly this neutralized look, but from time to time, history crept in, giving an object a nostalgic glow. The tells were subtle: you’d only know that the serif font used on some signs was outdated if you’d toured the rest of Heathrow; you’d only catch the occasional sign of obsolescence—a U.K. Border Agency logo (abolished in 2013), placards for check-in at US Airways (dissolved in 2015)—if you felt a personal connection to aviation.
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