Edinburgh Airport
On View at Museum in Washington, DC

Art of the Airport Tower

Explore contemporary and historic air traffic control towers.

Art of the Airport Tower takes you on a photographic journey to airports in the United States and around the globe. Smithsonian photographer Carolyn Russo explores the varied forms and functions of air traffic control towers throughout aviation history and interprets them as monumental abstractions, symbols of cultural expression, and testimonies of technological change. These 50 images bring a heightened awareness to the simple beauty of the airport tower and a call for their preservation in the airport landscape.

Often the first impression travelers have when they reach a new destination is the tower, and each tower tells a unique and important story about its airport, community, and culture. Visitors to the Stockholm-Arlanda Airport in Sweden are greeted by two lookout points perched like birds at the top of the control tower to evoke protective ravens from Nordic mythology. 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. Historic towers, such as the Ford Island Tower that withstood the attack on Pearl Harbor, provide a glimpse into earlier aviation eras. Collectively these towers represent many countries and cultures. They play a pivotal role in the vast network of air traffic control technology that brings people of the world closer together.

Russo’s striking photographs and informative captions reveal the architectural, cultural, and technological significance of each of the featured towers. This one-of-a-kind view of airport towers will change the way you think about flight.

The Art of the Airport Tower has been generously sponsored by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA), Harris Corporation, Rockwell Collins, Saab, and Thales, with in-kind support from Epson America, Inc., and Manfrotto.

Location in Museum

Museum in Washington, DC
November 11, 2015 to November 1, 2016
Plan Your Visit


Carolyn Russo


  • Birmingham Airport

    Birmingham Airport, United Kingdom (BHX/EGBB)
    The Birmingham Airport (formerly Elmdon Airport) opened on July 8, 1939. It served as a flight school and test center during World War II. Today the airport serves over nine million people a year with just a single runway. Its new control tower, which replaced Elmdon Airport's original one in 2012, stands 33 meters (108 feet) high. The cab, the tower section where the controllers work, has heated windows to evaporate water for better visibility.

  • Fort Worth Alliance Airport

    Fort Worth Alliance Airport, Texas, United States (AFW/KAFW)
    "Alliance" refers to the public-private partnership of the three entities responsible for designing and developing Fort Worth Airport: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the city of Fort Worth, and Ross Perot Jr.'s company Hillwood. It is the world's first 100 percent industrial airport—used for civil and military cargo, commercial, corporate, and other noncommercial flights. Situated on 485 hectares (1,198 acres), the airport's runway can accommodate the world's largest cargo planes. Albert Halff Associates designed the control tower, which was built in 1992. The cone-shaped feature, reminiscent of a bird's beak, hides the tower's microwave signal relay equipment.

    The photograph is a part of Art of the Airport Tower, an exhibition that explores contemporary and historical air traffic control towers in the U.S. and around the world. 

  • Edinburgh Airport

    Edinburgh Airport, Scotland, United Kingdom (EDI/EGPH) 

  • Edwards Air Force Base

    Edwards Air Force Base, California, United States (EDW/KEDW)

  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

    Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Virginia, United States (DCA/KDCA)

  • Oslo Airport

    Oslo Airport, Norway (OSL/ENGM)

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