In the age of cellphones, telephone booths have become obsolete. Yet during 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, the anachronistic infrastructure was one of the few communication systems that remained operational in Manhattan, thanks to its independent network of copper lines.
In 2013, New York City held a Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge to elicit ideas for a 21st-century phone booth. FXFowle Architects answered the call with NYC Loop, a piece of urban furniture brimming with features. Juror Bill Kreysler saw great value in its “practical day-to-day applications.”
The proposed NYC Loop comes equipped with a Wi-Fi hub, touchscreens for maps and weather, a Bluetooth connection, a cellphone charging station, and a bench for people-watching. The open-air structure has a frequency-specific system to mask ambient street noise, creating an oasis of relative quiet beneath its canopy. “We have investigated using a similar technology in the design of open office plans,” says Guy Geier, FAIA, managing partner at FXFowle.
The Loop could also host bicycle parking, electric-car charging, tables for short meetings, a garden wall, a photo booth, and even a performance or art space. “I like the flexibility of the system,” juror Gerardo Salinas said. “You can add more things to it—you could put in a swing.” “Any background you want for your selfie,” Kreysler chimed in.
The Loop would likely tie into the city’s power grid, but it would generate and store some of its own power with photovoltaic panels and batteries, as well as piezoelectric plates embedded in the adjacent pavement that would convert the kinetic energy of pedestrian footsteps into electricity. In the event of widespread power failure, basic communications functions and LED light strips would have enough on-board power to work.
At press time, FXFowle was in discussions with potential partners about participating in the city’s official RFP, which covers everything from design to fabrication, maintenance, and operation. Geier says that the firm has also received inquiries from municipalities and universities around the world that are intrigued with the NYC Loop’s potential. Perhaps the phone booth can be saved after all. —Gideon Fink Shapiro