Heathrow's new Terminal 2: it's what's inside that counts

Jun 4, 2014

Huge sculpture Slipstream wows critics as Heathrow Terminal 2 welcomes its first passengers


The new Heathrow Terminal 2, also known as Queen's Terminal, opened this morning with a "soft launch" intended to avoid the problems that plagued Terminal 5 during its first few days of operation.

Just 17 flights will arrive today, The Guardian reports, all of them operated by the American carrier United Airlines. "Arriving passengers were swiftly ushered through immigration and reunited with their bags as Heathrow declared a successful start," the paper says.

An estimated 20 million passengers a year are expected to use the new terminal, which opened 59 years to the day since the first permanent passenger building was opened on the site.

Journalists given a sneak preview of Terminal 2 before it opened said the dominant feature is Europe's largest privately funded sculpture, Slipstream, by British artist Richard Wilson.

The new building was designed by Spanish architect Luis Vidal specifically to incorporate the huge aluminium-clad artwork, which is made of 500,000 separate components and represents the shape of a stunt plane as it tumbles through space. The sculpture is 260ft long and weighs 77 tonnes, reports the BBC.

Vidal says he wanted to create a "destination" and sees airports as the cathedrals of the 21st century. He might have succeeded if the original plans, by British architect Norman Foster, had not been shelved as too costly, says the Financial Times.

Instead, the FT says, Vidal has created "clear, naturally-lit spaces" and "an efficient, generously spacious building" which "commendably retains Foster's vision of a green airport, using 40 per cent less energy" than usual.

In the end though, the building is "clumsy", "confused" and "lacks any spark capable of lifting it above the ordinary", the FT decides.

US broadcaster CNN is also uninspired, observing: "Disappointingly, it still looks like an airport building anywhere in the world." This is despite the LED lighting which Vidal says will change colour "to accommodate the mood of the passenger".

As for Slipstream, The Guardian observes that it is set to become "the most viewed piece of public art in the UK" and quotes Arts Council chair Sir Peter Bazalgette who finds it "a really exciting and ambitious piece of work" which "lifts your spirits".

Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Claire Wrathall, finds this "immense", "staggering" sculpture to be "a work that ought surely to give Wilson the fame he deserves".

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I suspect that, like most people, I do not give a fig about the 'airport experience' and just want to get on the plane as quickly and as cheaply as possible. I also suspect that an industrial shed would serve this end better.