The New York Times The New York Times Magazine Personalize your news

NYTimes: Home - Site Index - Archive - Help

Welcome, vsauter2 - Member Center - Log Out
Site Search:  

Courtesy Sprint Sites USA
Sprint Voyager.

Email This Article E-Mail This Article
Printer Friendly Format Printer-Friendly Format
Most E-mailed Articles Most E-Mailed Articles




The Larson Company
Saguaro Cactus.

Teleflage Corporation
Roman Catholic Church.

Brooklyn Heights, NY
This spacious 2-bedroom co-op offers cathedral ceilings and a private garden.

Search for more Brooklyn apartments with outdoor space on


The Height of Ingenuity


Published: November 30, 2003

One of the less glamorous tasks builders face is designing things that people don't want to have around -- electrical substations, tunnel exhaust vents, sewage treatment plants. Or cellphone antennas, one of the most difficult design challenges of contemporary life. Since the mid-80's, almost 150,000 of these unlovely radio transmitters have sprung up around the country on poles along roadways and on the facades of buildings. The construction of new antennas grows at a steady rate of 12 percent a year; meanwhile, communities have become even less willing to have them placed on their streets and in their backyards.


Historically, there have been two basic approaches to designing objects people find unattractive, says Howard Decker, chief curator of the National Building Museum. ''The most obvious way is to hide them or make them look as if they are something else,'' he says. Recent examples of this tactic are the pine-tree-shaped cellphone towers located on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. The other is not to hide the object at all but to fashion it into a work of art. ''I find the pine-tree towers absurd,'' says Peter Reed, curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art. ''Why not just make it a really beautiful design?'' Both approaches were on display last month at the Tower Summit and Trade Show in Las Vegas, an annual convention for the wireless industry. Below, the finalists in the cellphone tower ''most creative site concealment'' contest.

First Place
Sprint Voyager,
Fayetteville, N.C.
Tom Grubb: ''I am an artist with a background in engineering. I had been commissioned to do a piece in Fayetteville for the 100-year anniversary of flight. Around the same time, Sprint made an application to build a tower in a location that was in the sightline where my sculpture was supposed to go. So I went to Sprint with a proposal to turn the tower into a sculpture. They were talking about how to hide it, and I was saying, 'Let's look at the tower as a piece of art.' It's made out of aluminum, stainless steel and bronze cable. It weighs 1,500 pounds and is perfectly balanced on top of the pole. A wind of one mile per hour can move it. It was very important that I add very little lateral stress to the tower and also that the sculpture did not interfere with transmissions. I did the installation in front of an audience. It's an art piece that just happens to transmit telephone signals.''

Saguaro Cactus, Fountain Hills, Ariz.
Steve Meyer, camouflage division manager, the Larson Company: ''Our company builds themed environments for places like zoos and amusement parks, but we also disguise infrastructure. Zoning officials have kind of upped the ante in the level of realism they want to see. We call what we did with the cactus 'invisible' or '100 percent concealment.' It's 30 feet tall and made of fiberglass. With the pine trees, the antennas are placed outside the pole and are only partially disguised by the branches, but with the cactus, the antennas are actually hidden in the trunk.''

Roman Catholic Church, Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
Jon Mitchell, national sales director, TeleFlage: ''The church was going through a renovation, and we were able to work with the diocese to place antennas inside the spires. They required that we do exact reproductions, so we removed one of the spires and shipped it to the West Coast and made a mold from it. There are three antennas and one G.P.S. device located in the four spires surrounding the main steeple. We've built many antennas in churches before -- some right into the cross. The restrictions all depend on what denomination you're dealing with. The diocese was very helpful. We weren't allowed to work on Wednesdays or Sundays, but that was about it.''

Save 50% off home delivery of The Times

.When the Object Is the Objective (November 23, 2003) 
.Are Memorial Designs Too Complex to Last? (November 22, 2003) 
.DESIGN REVIEW; The Collectibles Many Grew Up With in an Age of Optimism  (November 14, 2003) 
.In the Democracy Of Design, Even Bad Taste Is O.K.  (October 25, 2003)  $
Find more results for Design

. Love in the Time of No Time
. The Disability Gulag
. Spoiling (Carefully) for a Fight
. The People's Game
Go to Magazine

Free IQ Test

Click for exclusive RX 330 information kit

$7 Online Trades
Open with $500