Queuing systems—the fields of posts and tapes in railway stations, shops, theme parks, and museums where people line up to queue—are an increasingly dominant spatial phenomenon, familiar across the globe. However, little attention has been paid to the ways in which these queuing systems manipulate, control, and reprogram everyday spaces. The queue, formerly a symbol of democratic consent, has instead become managed: contained and controlled by tape within which people are assumed to behave as predictable pinballs. Moreover, queuing time has come to be seen as productive marketing time, an opportunity for queuers to be monetized. The intellectual origins of these queuing systems in cybernetics theory are considered here, and the economics of queue-jumping are addressed. A case study examines Stansted Airport in London, designed by the well-known architectural firm Foster Associates and completed in 1991. It was famous at the time it was built for its transparent ethos and its clear, easy access from landside to airside. Stansted’s architecture has subsequently been transformed by the logic of queuing tape, not just at check-in and security, but throughout the building. Foster’s Stansted is now dominated by monetized queuing, as travelers move from one queue to the next and each queue is fine-tuned to the logic of shopping and marketing. Stansted has become the definitive example of a new architecture of productive queuing. On the basis of this investigation, the spatial logic and cultural politics of queuing tape are analyzed and discussed.
The Cultural Politics of Queuing Tape
Adam Sharr is professor of architecture at Newcastle University, principal of Adam Sharr Architects, editor of the journal arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, and series editor of Thinkers for Architects. His books include Reading Architecture and Culture (2012), which examines how buildings and their details can be read for their insights into the cultures that have inhabited, designed, and built them.