The “payphone”—like subway tokens—is a word that has increasingly become synonymous with an older New York. It’s been years since many of us have even stepped into, let alone used, one of those bulky, eerily abandoned and, let’s face it, uninviting, telephone booths peppering New York City’s sidewalks. But unlike subway tokens, the payphone is making a comeback.
In 1999, The City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications signed a contract regarding the maintenance of New York public payphones, but since the contract expires on October 15, 2014, Mayor Bloomberg established the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge, inviting urban planners, designers, students, and technologists to come up with a new design for the city’s 11,000 payphones that will reflect Manhattan’s changing aesthetics and provide an answer to the increasingly demanding digital needs of the modern-day New Yorker.
Over 125 submissions, and 11 finalists later, the judges finally selected 6 winners at last night’s Payphones Demo Day which took place at social-product-development company Quirky. Winners were named for each of five categories: Creativity, Connectivity, Visual Design, Community Impact, and Functionality. A popular Choice award, to be announced on March 15, will be decided by a public vote.
FX FOWLE’s NYC Loop took home the prize for Creativity. The design preserves the signature “booth” feature of the traditional payphone but adds several modern twists. Equipped with a WiFi hub, smart screen, and sound harmonizing technology, The Loop allows users to momentarily step out of Manhattan’s mayhem and into a semi-private space to make a call. The design also features an “information puddle” that spills on to the sidewalk, creating opportunities to advertise local events and allowing passersby to access information such as maps and transit services.
Sage and Coombe Architects’ design for the NYfi was awarded the prize for Connectivity. The NYfi is a sleekly designed interactive portal with a digital touch-screen display featuring applications that will allow pedestrians to access public information, transportation services, emergency assistance, and a free Wi-Fi connection. A flexible infrastructure permits the future addition of applications, allowing the portal to adapt to the growing and continuously changing needs of New York City.
The Visual Design award went to frog design’s Beacon proposal, which bills itself as “New York City’s next generation open communications platform.” Acting as a communication hub, Beacon is powered by solar cells and includes LED information screens and speakers and can be controlled by voice and gestures using an array of sensors and directional microphones.
When awarding the Community Impact award the judges found two submissions to be equally worthy, resulting in a tie. The most prominent feature of the Control Group and Titan’s NYC I/O: Responsive City design is that, besides providing passerby with community information on a daily basis, during emergencies the portal transforms into an information kiosk that will direct pedestrians to local shelters and provide important evacuation instructions. Additionally, the portals run on solar energy and are therefore supplied with constant power, a feature that will be particularly useful during emergencies.
The second Community Impact prize was awarded to a group of students from NYU ITP, Cooper Union, and Parsons who designed the Windchimes. The minimalist three-panel design and push-button features slightly recall the classic form of the old payphones. A distributed environmental sensor network encourages a sustainable future for New York City.
Lastly, the design for Smart Sidewalks by a team comprised of members from Syracuse University, UC Davis, Parsons, Rama Chorpash Design, and Cheng + Snyder, took home the award for Functionality. The slender hub, which is powered by solar panels, supports free WiFi connection, features a touch screen allowing access to weather information and historical photos and information on specific neighborhoods, and allows passers by to charge their cell phones. Using a color-code system, strips of LED lights spill onto the sidewalks and update pedestrians on local events according to their location.
The sixth award, the Popular Choice Award, will be announced on March 15th, after the public submits their vote on their favorite design via the City of New York’s Facebook page.