The panopticon, developed by philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham, was designed as a system of control within prisons. A circular building with an observation tower in the centre of an open space it enabled a single watchman to survey the prisoners without them knowing they were being watched in their cells.
In Michel Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish, the author moves the panopticon beyond a function of discipline into an apparatus of power, a concept further developed in Adam Curtis’s film All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, the name taken by Gordon for her project about the modern panopticon, air traffic control towers.
The air traffic control tower is a benign panopticon, exemplifying protective surveillance. It has become an enduring graceful symbol of a form of progress which protects and enables, resistant to critique, forever and now.