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xAirport Flight Simulator Restores the Wetlands (and the Wonder of Flying)

Natalie Jeremijenko says the way to protect the wetlands is to build more. Her xAirport builds "wetlanding" strips and reimagines how we fly.

For Natalie Jeremijenko, the modern culture of flying is both an ecological mess and a creative failing. "Probably the most damaging thing any of us does individually is fly," says the New York-based professor and artist. What's more, the airline infrastructure tends to look unassailable: Where could we possibly launch a fix? "There's a cultural obstacle to even beginning to imagine what the options might be."
Jeremijenko's new xAirport project is working to reconstruct a better flight culture from the ground up—quite literally. It turns out one of the most destructive things a plane can do is land, which they commonly do on huge patches of tarmac paved onto fragile wetlands. But what if we no longer relied on these "airports"? The xAirport team has been working with the makers of the ICON A5, a light amphibious aircraft that makes wet landings. And at an exhibition at the San Jose Biennal in September, the group built their own wetland strip to represent the ideal landing zones of the future, which participants could cruise across on a zipline. "There's a weird public discourse about 'protecting' the wetlands," Jeremijenko says. "The only way is to build more wetlands."


xAirport has also done holistic redesigns on everything from in-flight menus to a pilot's cockpit position. And in San Jose, they passed out "hand flyers," shaped on the curvature of different bird wings—a more sophisticated take on sticking one's hand out a car window (Jeremijenko claims the experience is actually "more transferable to flight" than the standard flight simulator). The larger theory is simple: Get people to recall the organic pleasures of flying and they'll start thinking about the process more naturally. In Jeremijenko's words, "xAirport is about reclaiming the wonder of flight."

Photos and video used with permission. Urban Wetland Design: Fletcher Studio; Construction: Five Elements Design, photo by Troy Martinez.

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