As much of our daily conversations have moved to online environments, this project brings these conversations back into the public spaces of cities and in particular to the spaces outside Public Library branches. PlaceTalk allows residents and visitors to discover the diverse nature of neighborhoods through the stories, experiences, and phenomena that make each community unique. These stories are embedded in the materials of architecture, the conversations of people on the street, and in the digital data that enables social media. PlaceTalk is a series of responsive sculptural objects that bring hyper-local conversations to public places by vocalizing a wide array of data and information to develop a conversation between individuals within the neighborhood and the fleeting information that makes these communities unique.
PlaceTalk tells its stories through two mechanisms that are auditory and visual, both integrated in the upper shell of the structure. The auditory component is a speaker that plays back the content of hyperlocal yelp reviews, twitter feeds, etc. as well as Public Library events, 311 notifications, ambient noise or recorded conversations that people deliberately share with the sculpture. The playback of these conversations occurs according to people’s behavior. Detecting proximity the sculptures shift from whispering text fragments to distinct conversations based on an individual’s distance to the sculpture. This creates a sense of engagement as people take the time to gather near the sculpture. Visually PlaceTalk uses LED lighting to indicate whether it is talking or listening and reflects the proximity and engagement with individuals. At night each sculpture emits a hue based on natural and architectural materials present in its surroundings mimicking seasonal color shifts. PlaceTalk improvises its behavior, having a mind of its own and offering someone passing by a sense of wonder as they discover and create conversations within a city’s public life.
Sites and Community
The sites we envision for PlaceTalk sculptures are coupled with Public Library branches in different neighborhoods. Each branch would be a steward of its PlaceTalk sculpture. Public Libraries have the potential to provide lively places of neighborhood conversation and focal points for textual engagement with civic discourse. PlaceTalk fits well into this context and raises awareness about the innovative resources that are being developed within a city’s Public Library system.
PlaceTalk picks up the colors of its surrounding architecture and flora through the seasons and reflects this in its lighting scheme.
Technologies and Behavior
PlaceTalk is equipped with proximity sensors, LED lights and a loudspeaker all connected to a Raspberry Pi computer with wifi/cellular connectivity. Components are housed in the upper translucent polycarbonate shell of the structure. A photovoltaic panel under the transparent top part of that shell provides the energy for the operation of these compoents. Energy saving will be managed carefully using the proximity sensors to detect absence of people in proximity to put the system to sleep.
PlaceTalk pulls information from a variety of online sources (Meetup, Twitter, Yelp, Public Library Events, 311, etc.). Only very local (neighborhood, 1 mile radius, or similar boundary) content will be considered. PlaceTalk improvises its behavior, it cannot be triggered to do anything specific as such. It whispers text fragments randomly selected from its sources and extends these conversations as it detects people presence in its proximity. PlaceTalk can also listen. It uses a distinct color light to indicate that it is recording what people are saying and then loops in these recordings into its talk at later times.
Dimensions and Materials
The physical structure of PlaceTalk consists of a stem and an upper shell. The stem is fabricated as a polished polymer concrete cast (alternative: frosted polycarbonate shell with internal steel tube) and anchored to the pavement, providing stability and grounding. The upper ellipsoid shell contains all technology components and is made of thermoformed polycarbonate. The upper part of the shell is transparent covering the photovoltaic panel. The lower part is frosted and translucent, allowing LED light emission from the inside. The entire shell is weather sealed and attached to the concrete stem.
Kristian Kloeckl, Northeastern University (CAMD)
Bradley Cantrell, Harvard University (GSD)