The exhibit, composed of 50 photographs by Smithsonian photographer Carolyn Russo, explores the varied forms and functions of airport traffic control towers in the U.S. and around the world. The exhibit will remain on display at the museum until November 2016.
Russo traveled to 85 airports in 23 countries to capture images of the towers.
What started out as a strictly functional structure, the airport tower has become a symbol of its airport, its community and even its country. Visitors to the Stockholm-Arlanda Airport in Sweden, for example, are greeted by two lookout points perched like birds at the top of the control tower to evoke protective ravens from Nordic mythology, while the crescent-shaped tower at the Abu Dhabi International Airport resembles the sail of a dhow boat to emphasize the area’s proud maritime heritage.
“Airport traffic control towers have a powerful presence — they watch over the vastness of the airport and sky, are a nonjudgmental cultural greeter, a choreographer or conductor of the aircraft dance, a mother bird caring for her flock and an omniscient, intelligent structure keeping humans safe,” said Russo. “I saw them as the unsung heroes of the airport landscape and tried to elevate them beyond their height and amazing architecture.”
The exhibition will begin a traveling tour in December 2016.