Vivek Haldar


Some scattered thoughts after reading about the airspace aesthetic.

We could call this strange geography created by technology “AirSpace.” It’s the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live / work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless

  • Airspace itself, and the underlying phenomena behind that aesthetic is much older than Airbnb and Foursquare. Airspace is the aesthetic of how the the western multi-national corporation wants to be seen, both overtly and subconsciously: powerful yet gentle, controlling yet subservient, sharp yet organic, but above all—spanning the globe and scaling to massive flows of products, materials and ideas. It is the aesthetic of the functional and comfortable office, every one as similar as possible to the home office, so an employee has to never spend any mental effort to adapt.

  • I personally view airspace as a huge boon and am thankful for it. I am thankful that I can expect to get a non-fat vanilla latte in Delhi or Shanghai or Dubai that is guaranteed (by an immense and complex machinery of people, machines, processes and incentives) to taste exactly the same as the one that kickstarts my mornings in my Californian suburb. I am thankful that when I check into a big chain hotel in a city I’ve never been to I can expect a well-known and recognized room, amenities and level of service. Some may find this stultifying and stifling, may say that it eradicates the local flavor and imposes a sameness on everything and every place. But the local flavor and organic chaos is still out there, outside the hotels and the Starbucks and on the crazy streets, or in a national park far away from those, and I can go seek it if I wish.

  • This homogeneous aesthetic extends not just to physical spaces, but also to lifestyles, life scripts and people’s desires. Go to any well-developed city with a strong middle class, and people there have mostly the same lifestyles (work, commute, weekend) and want the same material things (houses, cars, vacations). When was the last time you personally met someone whose lifestyle and desires were a huge surprise to you?

  • Speaking for myself, the “aesthetic” that speaks to me is that of intimate and private spaces (even if they are in public view). Work desks with old food, empty soda cans, three-month old post-its with todo notes, and coffee circles. Sinks with dishes. The constant aftermath of a yard where kids play. This is the aesthetic of messes. And a mess is personal and intensely revealing. Every clean and designed space is a wall behind which to hide one’s true personality. But look at someone’s mess closely for a while and you feel like you’ve known them for ages.