Attempts to make cellphone towers look like trees may or may not work

Cellphone towers are ubiquitous parts of the modern landscape. Trying to make them look like trees…can be interesting.

South African photographer Dillon Marsh‘s compact photo series (all 12 Invasive Species images featured here) is a meditation on the weird, and small, variations of design in tree cellphone towers.

“In certain cases the disguised towers might not be noticed,” says Marsh. “But then an undisguised tower might not have been noticed either.”

An important chapter in the history of tree-shaped cellphone towers was written in South Africa. In the mid-’90s, Ivo Branislav Lazic (who worked for a telecommunications service company called Brolaz Projects) and his colleague Aubrey Trevor Thomas were commissioned by Vodacom to solve the visual pollution problem cellphones presented.

Lazic and Thomas came up with the world’s first palm tree cellphone tower. The Palm Pole Tower, made from non-toxic plastics, was installed in Cape Town in 1996…

Meanwhile, in the American Southwest, fledgling company Larson Camouflage was responding to similar style-sensitive network companies. Larson makes scores of different “trees” but it kicked everything off in 1992 with a naturalistic pine that concealed a disagreeable cell tower in Denver, Colorado. To dress up a cell tower in plastic foliage can cost up to $150,000, four times the cost of a naked mast. Marsh is skeptical about the need for high-tech camouflage.

My first thoughts in seeing these South Africa pictures is that the camouflage doesn’t look too bad. However, the towers/trees are simply too tall and don’t blend into the landscape. This is not a matter of bad design; the tower is taller than everything else.

This gets at a bigger question: why does this infrastructure have to be covered in the first place? We want cell phones but we don’t want to see the technology that it requires? I’m reminded of this sometimes when traveling into neighborhoods in Chicago. In many of these places, there is a tangle of electrical lines, alleys, and poles (street lights, signs, police cameras, traffic lights, etc.). Compared to the Loop or suburban neighborhoods which are more spread out or places where electric lines are buried, this can look ugly. But, it is part of city life and would be quite expensive to eliminate.

This doesn’t mean we have to settle for ugly cell phone towers. But, the alternatives may not be so great either.

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