Okay, Google: Can Architecture Fix Fiber Hut Problem?

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An architectural rendering of what Google's Fiber Hut in Haskin Park could look like.

Courtesy / Brantley Hightower

An architectural rendering of what Google's Fiber hut in Haskin Park could look like.

When news broke last week that the City of San Antonio was pausing construction on several of the “network huts” required for the implementation of Google’s fiberoptic broadband internet service, I was both excited and concerned. On the one hand, I was thrilled to hear that physical construction had begun on San Antonio’s Google Fiber network. On the other hand, I was worried to hear that there had been some localized pushback.

One hut that had been the source of criticism was the one built in Haskin Park. My family actually lives less than a mile from there (the girls and I have ridden our bikes there in the past) and so I decided to take a look and see just how offensive these little buildings were.

There’s not a whole lot to a fiber hut: the one in Haskin Park was about 30 feet long by about 10 feet wide. The windowless prefabricated building is surrounded by a larger service yard enclosed by a cedar fence. It’s pushed to the southern edge of the park and although it seems like pushing it to the rear (eastern end) of the park would have made it less conspicuous, it didn’t seem like its placement interfered much with how the park is used.

The Google Fiber hut at Haskin Park.

Courtesy / Brantley Hightower

The Google Fiber hut at Haskin Park.

In the grand scheme of things, the hut seemed pretty innocuous and certainly less offensive than the artifacts created by the recent “fracking” boom that are now scattered throughout north and south Texas. It would be easy to dismiss this sort of thing as a typical NIMBY response but there is a legitimate philosophical concern about eroding public park space with structures that support commercial interests. San Antonio certainly is not alone in its struggle with this sort of thing.

Still, I was left with a sense that how fiber huts have been built so far represented a missed opportunity both for Google and the City of San Antonio. Rather than see these structures as pieces of telecommunication infrastructure to be hidden, why not celebrate them as opportunities to improve the places where they are located? Rather than look at these huts as a necessary evil, why not embrace them as a way for a corporate entity to reach out to the customers in the city it serves?

In other words, this struck me as a design problem; one that could be addressed by architecture.

We were wondering what this sort of thing might look like and so we did what architects do: we started doodling. The current arrangement is simply a hut surrounded by a wood security fence and starting there we began to imagine how that fence could do a better job of screening while evolving into an amenity for the park itself.

Google Fiber huts don't necessarily have to be "hidden," they could be designed for interaction.

Courtesy / Brantley Hightower

Google Fiber huts don’t necessarily have to be “hidden,” they could be designed for interaction.

Concern has been expressed about the noise that is periodically produced by the cooling units and back-up generators associated with the huts. To address this, an earthen berm could be built to acoustically isolate the hut from the rest of the park. A more robust screening element could then be built to act as a canvas for graphics to imbue the structure with an identity related to its particular neighborhood. This berm and screen could act as a framework for other activities: it could become a play structure itself or even a stage for public performances.

Keep in mind we know nothing about the actual requirements for these network huts, the agreement Google has with the City of San Antonio, or the budgets that are in place. This quick design exercise was made in a vacuum merely to illustrate what an alternative approach might look like. It is but one solution to the problem. It would be easy to imagine many others.

In fact, we were reminded of the Park Pavilion Program that has seen nearly forty new park structures built throughout the city of Dallas. Designed by multiple architects these pavilions have become an excellent example of how good design can imbue places with identity and utility. It’s not difficult to imagine a similar program in San Antonio where a series of pavilions sponsored by Google screen the huts that support their network while also giving back the the community they serve.

9 thoughts on “Okay, Google: Can Architecture Fix Fiber Hut Problem?

  1. I hope that someone in authority at Google gets a copy of this article. It was obvious from the first photos accompanying complaints regarding the hut at Haskin Park that it was ugly and too big not to be camouflaged somehow. Will someone from our city government invite Mr. Hightower to any meetings they have with Google? Did Austin, Kansas City, and Provo allow the ugly huts in their cities?

  2. Hey fyi. DSD has been holding monthly “come together” meetings on this downtown since August 2016 back when a number of citizens raised complaints about the whole process. I was the one that organized the request for answers from San Pedro Hills area. If you want to know more talk to Michael Dice from DSD and Marcus Hammer who was assigned to handle the constituent issues moving forward. We met just this past Friday for the month. Look on city website for a page in regards to the Conduit CCR. There you will find more information. There have been ordinances etc passed in response to all of this. The city has been working on it. But contact them if you want to get more involved.

  3. Just a side note before anyone screams “why didn’t I know about this?” I submitted a project proposal last year to try and hopefully eliminate these problems in the Tech Bloc contest but alas I did not win. So if anyone else wants to work on this problem, PM/ email/ comment on this thread please.

  4. Just a side note before anyone screams “why didn’t I know about this?” I submitted a project proposal last year to try and hopefully eliminate these problems in the Tech Bloc contest but alas I did not win. So if anyone else wants to work on this problem, PM/ email/ comment on this thread please.

  5. Cast my vote for more creative thinking such as Mr. hightower has done.it’s a promising way to bring unique play and/or entertainment centers to more areas in the city.

  6. This is MORE than just a Design problem. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find stories of Google Huts being placed in the middle of residential neighborhoods on vacant lots on the City’s southside. That alludes to the larger problem of miscommunication between City departments and communication to the community. If the SA Tomorrow plan touts “revitalization” and helping to “lift neighborhoods” from blight, why is it that many Google huts on other sides of town are placed in a park, whilst southside residents in a lower-income neighborhood have to deal with one in the middle of a family neighborhood? Did City staff not read the SA Tomorrow Plan or care about the effects of using that lot for a non-taxpaying hut that does nothing to help feed the local tax-base? How is that utilizing city property wisely? In a park, yes that makes sense. In a neighborhood, not one bit. It’s careless and shows the continued disrespect for people of lower-income brackets and their communities.

  7. Just so everyone understands I have been pursuing removal of this illegally permitted(skipped as many as 5 public hearings-failed to tell neighborhood groups) and installed Google Hut since July 2016. My continuing agenda is to Remove the Hut just like the Council cancelled the other park Hut sites due to inappropriate uses.

    Most companies would have already fired their CEO/ City Manager for the type of issues that are now surfacing and have been long known but covered up by council members and city staff.
    Does our City want the type of leadership that thinks circumventing the rules is acceptable practice?

    The waste has been by our City Manager who, as a result of not requiring Google to follow the rules or the Master Lease language, has created this problem. Section 8.02 of the Master Lease says “landlord may require that a Network Hut be relocated from a City site at Tenant’s expense in the event……etc.
    So making Google move will not affect services as nearby appropriate sites are available and moving will not a waste taxpayer resources..What is a waste is destroying parks for the benefit of a private business without proper vetting.

    Maybe a deal could have been worked out with the neighbors in the beginning if our city manager and council had been honest and not tried to cover it up.

    Why do you think City Staff and Council all of a sudden cancelled multiple sites 18 months after executing the lease.
    Why do you think they put $300,000 in the 2017 Bond for little Haskin Park? Yet not one of the other parks that were slated for Huts were allocated a single penny in the Bond.
    Is it because some of us just complained starting in July before they installed the Hut?
    Was the money offered to make us be quiet and be happy with the Hut in the middle of the Park?”

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