14 March 2012

wireless Internet broadcasting from a crumbling church

Re-use of an existing structure: Clear Communication 4G wifi antennas mounted on St. Peters Church of Christ, 47th Street and Kingsessing Avenue, West Philadelphia.
This stone church, built around the turn of the 20th century, when West Philadelphia was initially developing into a streetcar suburb, has fallen into severe disrepair over the last number of years, but today it supports an antenna array for Clear's 4G wireless Internet. Here is Clear's coverage map. The church does not seem to hold services anymore. The roof is collapsing in many places. At least two trees are growing out of the structure itself. The stained glass on the west-facing wall has collapsed in on itself. At the same time, the turret broadcasts wireless connectivity throughout the neighborhood. I use it even, at my apartment a few blocks away. This church and its wireless connection to the Internet illustrate a central issue of networked urbanism: places can become connective nodes to the Internet or cellular networks, but be disconnected to their neighborhoods themselves. For Clear, this location provides a tall point in the neighborhood from which to site their antenna without having to build a tower. For Clear's customer, the Internet connection matter and the location where the network equipment actually sits is secondary, but the site--the infrastructure of Internet connection--has a relationship to the city as well. In this instance, the location exists in a state of disrepair bordering on abandonment, where the addition of Clear's antenna in the last few years are probably the only modification or renovation to the church in decades. The provision of wireless Internet connectivity flows through this place of worship falling into ruin; the network matters and, to a degree, the church and the neighborhood itself does not. If the turret crumbled apart, would Clear rebuild the stonework or just look for another location? I would imagine that Clear would move their antenna to another point in the area, as would any other Internet or mobile communication provider.

As wireless, mobile connectivity becomes still more central to how people move about cities such as Philadelphia, these situations will continue to emerge. Using mobile phones, accessing the Internet, and all the everyday gestures and actions that go on in a networked city require an infrastructural back-end to connect that mobile phone, and this infrastructure exists in or on top of places like St. Peter's Church of Christ in West Philadelphia. The New Aesthetic that James Bridle has been documenting prolifically and eloquently is not solely new things and places and the like. It is often the re-use of older systems, buildings, and technologies. This thick mixing of old, new, and near-future is the networked city, where the wireless connection to the communication infrastructure may be out of sight, but is still present somewhere, like on the top of an century-old, crumbling stone church.

 Detail of St. Peter's Church of Christ highlighting the tree growing out of the stonework as well as the dilapidated roof.

The western side of the church. Note the stained glass window has broken apart.

Two windows at street level, backlit from inside.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if the people are using Facebook while they are hearing the mass there. It is just so interesting that we can have internet everywhere now. We do not need to stay at home and plug in a fiber optics cabling system to our computer to get an internet access.