Heathrow Heritage

A second project from the Royal College of Art graduate exhibition which remains open until 3 July 2011 on Kensington Gore.

Last year, stories of families forced to spend their holidays inside Heathrow airport due to bad weather conditions and volcanic ash clouds have made the headlines of newspapers. Inspired by the misery endured by the passengers, Lisa Ma, a graduate from the department of Design Interactions, is now offering stranded travelers the possibility to spend their waiting time in a tour of the area surrounding the transport hub.

90woman waiting.pngHeathrow Heritage is a series of excursions run in cooperation with the activists, historians and residents of the villages around Heathrow. Most of the locations visited typically look like postcard pretty English villages but are threatened by the expansion of the airport. Lisa Ma also enrolled the complicity of the airport deacon who gets in touch with stranded passengers and informs them of the possibility to spend some time outside of the terminals on a bike tour around the ancient villages.


Passengers are first transport on a free bus then hop on a bike to cycle around and learn about Richard Cox, the inventor of the Cox apple, who was buried in the 12th century village church, to see a Medieval barn rumoured to be the oldest and largest in England….

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visitors will be told about the astute plan Greenpeace hatched to protest against the Third Runway. The activists bought an acre of land and sold it to 100,000 people around the world for £2 each. The plot is now used as an allotment for locals and protesters.

30airplot.jpgView of the Airplot

The Heathrow Heritage activity brings two communities together: disgruntled’ travelers passing through the airport on their way to other cities and local residents who are deeply affected by but rarely in direct contact with goings on the other side of the airport fences. The tour leaves entertaining and memorable experiences for the passengers and constitutes a new form of activism for the protesters.

50rom church tower.jpgVillage of Harmondsworth from the church tower

heathrow1map.jpgNarrative map of Heathrow Heritage (hi-res version)

While working on the project Lisa Ma also met Raj the homeless and ‘unofficially authorised resident of Terminal 5.”

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The atmosphere inside the Terminals is miles away from the lovely cottages and pubs located a few minutes away from the airport.

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Quick questions to Lisa:

How did the airport authorities react to your project? After all, it’s both a lovely way to handle stranded passengers but it is also potentially annoying for them if you let activists point to the problems involved in the expansion of the airport.

You are absolutely right, we are very careful about approaching the airport authorities in case the project becomes prohibited or subverted. If BAA should take on the project, it would be under their campaign of being “committed to being a good neighbour”.

I had a conversation with someone from Air France, who was interested in inviting the project over to Paris. They seemed to understand that a combination of self-criticism and debate in a local-run service could actually improve the reputation of the aviation centre. I’m told about the further terminal expansions at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport and imagine a similar situation to Heathrow may happen in Roissy.

20drunk tour guide.jpgDrunk tour guide

Can you tell me again the story of the bank robber? How did you get in touch with him?

The bank robber is one of my favourite characters. When K first approached me at the squat site he asked if I was Japanese and wore leather jackets because he was following the instructions from a fortune cookie. I was terrified when I heard about his experience initially. But he’s very sweet and lives in deep regret, even though everyone now thinks of him as a super hero in the recession. He is the drunken tour guide’s best friend. With silvering hair a posture that looks like he should be on a Miami beach, K is a charmer with a philosophical approach. I hugged him the last time I saw him.

80map pg 3.jpgMap of the tour

Is the project still ongoing? how many tours have taken place already?

The tours are dependent on me at the moment, so are pausing whilst I am exhibiting at the RCA show. I’m hoping to record the responses and prove to the activists that what the project is strong enough for them to take over and have a life of its own beyond my direction.

We’ve been aiming for at least 2-3 tours a week so that all the stakeholders could become accustomed to the routine. Some of the tour numbers are smaller than we expected -we were about the only people in the airport wishing for volcanic ashes to stay for longer. I’ve spent so long with the activists that they’ve asked me to look after their site when they left it to make hanging baskets in the village!

Thanks Lisa!

All images courtesy of Lisa Ma.