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Art of the Airport Tower at the National Air and Space Museum

Art of the Airport Tower at the National Air and Space Museum

The unusual subjects of this exhibition, airport control towers, are perfect examples of ‘form follows function’: a well-known 20th Century, modernist principle applied to architecture and industrial design. This approach is a vast contrast to the unbridled creativity of the visual arts. Having to design with functional restrictions, budgets and deadlines in place, however, can create spectacular results.

Airport tower group 1
(left to right) Stockholm-Arlanda Airport, Sweden (2001) (ARN/ESSA), © Carolyn J. Russo; Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Virginia (DCA/KDCA), © Carolyn J. Russo; Edinburgh Airport, Scotland (2005) (EDI/EGPH), © Carolyn J. Russo

The drainage channels on Edinburgh’s control tower, for example, are masked by the double-helix decoration on its exterior. The tower of Fort Worth has a feature that looks like an eagle’s beak, hiding the tower’s microwave signal relay equipment. The design of Stockholm-Arlanda’s tower symbolises Hugin and Munin, the two ravens who keep watch over the world, according to Norse mythology. Finnish artist Silja Rantanen superimposed an excerpt from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic aviation book ‘Southern Mail’ (1929) on the tower’s black and white bands.

Aiport tower group 2
(left) Fort Worth Alliance Airport, Texas (1992) (AFW/KAFW), © Carolyn J. Russ; (right) Edwards Air Force Base, California (EDW/KEDW), © Carolyn J. Russo

The artist, Carolyn J. Russo, has been a photographer and museum specialist at the National Air and Space Museum since 1988. By using an unusual perspective and crop she captures the features of these edifices in stylized, almost Art Deco-like images. Although functionality often inspires striking design it is also easily overlooked. Russo’s photography pays homage to the architects of these towers.

The exhibition, Art of the Airport Tower, is on show through to November 2016 at the National Air and Space Museum, Independence Ave at 6th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20560.