Up for a Vote, the Pay Phone of the Future

Meanwhile, in other voting news on Wednesday, a sensuous wraparound booth and a slender concave kiosk were leading a popularity contest on Facebook, the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge, sponsored by the Bloomberg administration.

Building Blocks

How the city looks and feels — and why it got that way.

The public has been asked to vote for one of six finalists in a contest meant to encourage new thinking about the 11,000 pay phone sites in New York. Coin-operated landlines seem increasingly obsolete. Franchises under which private companies install, maintain and operate public phones expire on Oct. 15, 2014. That gives city officials a chance to figure out what features they will want to see in the pay phones of the future.

Out of about 125 submissions to the design contest, the city winnowed the field last week to six entries in five categories. (There was a tie in one.) A sixth category — popular choice — will be determined by the Facebook vote, which will close Thursday at 5 p.m.

Tuesday’s front-runners each had roughly the same number of votes and were well ahead of the other entries. They were NYC Loop, a wraparound booth designed by the architectural firm FXFowle, and NYFi, a slender kiosk designed by Sage & Coombe Architects.

Though Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the contest had “the potential to transform the aesthetics and functionality of New York City pay phones,” it also has the potential of making no difference whatever, particularly since the new franchises will be negotiated by a different mayoral administration.

But it’s still fun to contemplate a future in which pay phones might have a little more purpose again.

NYC Loop was named best in creativity; meaning originality, innovation and the quality of the idea. It was designed by FXFowle. The description on the NYC Digital site says, in part: “NYC Loop combines a beautiful, contemporary pay phone with a uniquely tailored public space that can be chosen to suit New York’s diverse communities. It provides sound-harmonizing technology as well as a smart screen for making calls and enhancing personal mobile communication.” It continues, “The Loop also features a responsive projector that creates an ‘information puddle’ on the sidewalk with which any passer-by can interact.”

NYFi was named best in connectivity, meaning the ability to connect New Yorkers and enable communication, including safety and emergency notices. It was designed by Sage & Coombe Architects. “The NYFi features two interfaces, and a simple touch activates the height-sensitive interactive zone on either face. Two models of the NYFi are proposed: a 10-foot model for commercial and manufacturing districts, and a smaller model for residential and historic districts where pay phones have not traditionally been permitted. When not in use, the default display in commercial areas is interactive advertising and, in residential neighborhoods, wayfinding and local interest posts.”

Smart Sidewalks was named best in functionality, meaning flexibility, versatility, scalability, accessibility and sustainability. It was designed by a group from Syracuse University, the University of California at Davis, Parsons the New School for Design, Rama Chorpash Design and Cheng & Snyder. “The design works within the existing five-foot sidewalk grid and has two main components. The first lies flush with the ground, and introduces a combined sensor and display with storm runoff storage below. The second stands vertical and functions as a touch-screen, Wi-Fi hub, energy source, charging station and a range of other functions.”

NYC I/O: The Responsive City was named best in community impact, meaning support of local residents, businesses and cultural institutions. It was designed by Control Group and Titan. “By updating the pay phone with a modern array of sensors and displays to create a foundational input/output system for an open, urban-scale computing platform, we can allow New York City to respond to and serve the people. Through open access to real time data and a distribution platform for community, civic, arts and commercial apps and messaging, we can create a safer, more efficient, and more enjoyable city.”

Beacon was named best in visual design, meaning visual appeal and user experience. It was designed by Frog. “The upper screens function as digital signage, creating an ad-supported revenue stream that allows Beacon to provide its other functions free of charge. These screens also adapt to public events throughout our city, from N.Y.C. marathon mileage markers to themed banners, celebrating with the city during its many parades. The lower screens are dedicated to New York City’s local street life and communities, with hyper-local advertising, community message boards, and of course, the telephone functionality.”

Windchimes was also named best in community impact. It was designed by a group from Parsons, the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University and Cooper Union. “Windchimes are environmental sensor stations that talk through pay phones. They can plug directly into existing technologies and communication infrastructure, making them low cost and immediately deployable. We imagined New York City’s existing 11,000 pay phones as a distributed sensor network providing real-time and hyper-local records of the city’s rain levels, pollution and other environmental conditions.”

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