Christoph Morlinghaus (German, born 1968)

TWA (Bridge), 2004
Chromogenic print on paper on Sintra
71 1/2 x 85 3/4 in. (sheet); 58 1/8 x 73 1/4 in. (image)
Museum Purchase

When Eero Saarinen received the commission to design the Trans World Airlines (TWA) terminal at New York’s Idylwild (now John F. Kennedy International) Airport in 1956, he was asked to create a building that would, in his words, express "the drama and specialness and excitement of travel." (1) He succeeded. Completed in 1962, a year after the architect’s death, it remains both an icon of modern architecture and the supreme architectural embodiment of the idea of flight. Ironically, however, what was once a marvel of contemporary design has now become an embattled relic, occupying the oxymoronic category of "modern antique." Although it is on the National Register of Historic Places, the building ceased operating as a terminal in 2001 and is at the center of a continuing controversy over how best to preserve and use it. (In 2005, after modifications, one section was incorporated as part of a new terminal.)

The interior of the twa terminal, described by the architect Robert A. M. Stern as the "Grand Central of the jet age," is a space of steel, concrete, and glass, the primary materials of modern architecture. (2) It seems, therefore, aptly recorded by the modern medium of photography. Architectural photography is often overlooked – except, of course, by architects. It is no easy matter to catch three dimensions in two, to create a sense of space and place by capturing something of the physical, not just visual, experience of a building.

Christoph Morlinghaus, who started out as a still-life photographer, brings to his architectural images a keen sense of composition, form, color, and light. His rendering of the twa terminal’s great central space has a subdued tone. Working with traditional photographic film, Morlinghaus relies only on natural light and on the illumination provided by the building’s indirect artificial lighting. (He does not introduce additional lights of his own or use digital manipulation after the fact.) The vantage point beautifully serves the complexity and drama of Saarinen’s design: the symmetry of the domelike ceiling forms is set against the asymmetry and almost baroque curves of the shapes beneath, just as the strength of the unadorned, sculptural concrete surfaces is offset by the delicate railing that frames the gallery-level bridge.

From his very first architectural project, a study of the abandoned Frankfurt headquarters of the once-gigantic IG Farben chemical company, Morlinghaus has been fascinated by the tension between the forward-looking character of modernism and the now-retrospective aspect of the surviving buildings. Although his photographs usually suggest a calm and deliberate gaze, this particular image, showing a vast public area devoid of people, feels rather disturbing, even spooky. It is as if the clock suspended in the center of the image has been stopped – not by the photographic process but by time itself, standing still as the building awaits its fate.

--Robert Silberman

1. Aline B. Saarinen, ed., Eero Saarinen on His Work, rev. ed. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1968), 68.
2. Stern quoted in Herbert Muschamp, "Architecture View: Stay of Execution for a Dazzling Airline Terminal," New York Times, November 6, 1994

Christoph Morlinghaus (German, born 1968) 'TWA (Bridge),' 2004. Chromogenic print on paper on Sintra, 71 1/2 by 85 3/4 inches (sheet); 58 1/8 by 73 1/4 inches (image). Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas. Museum Purchase