Postboxes in Bristol to speak to public via text after PAN Studios win Playable City Award

By Culture24 Reporter | 21 January 2013

The public will be able to communicate with every postbox and bollard in Bristol after the London studio, PAN, triumphed from an international list of 93 competitors for the inaugural Playable City Award.

A photo of a man looking at a red postbox while typing a text into his mobile phone
Postboxes in Bristol could be about to change forever
Run by digital epicentre Watershed, the fusion of art and technology will install codes on lampposts, bus stops and benches, turning them into objects of play rather than ubiquitous street features.

Participants will be able to text the word “Hello” to a special phone number. Allied with the code, the object of their choice will then reply with a question or observation, ranging from irritation at inclement weather to secret stories from the city’s history.
“This is a huge surprise,” admitted Ben Barker, from the studios, which will receive £30,000 for a project expected to tour internationally after premiering in the south-west.

“When we saw the quality of the shortlist, with work from so many names that we respect, we never imagined being selected. We are really flattered and excited to continue to develop the idea with Watershed on what makes a Playable City over the coming months.

“Our interest in the Playable City was rooted in its contrast to the smart city – the almost invisible structures that underpin modern services.

“We are asking people to wake up to street furniture and play with them in order to communicate with fellow citizens. We're excited to see what Bristol comes up with.”

Musician Imogen Heaping, who was part of a three-pronged judging panel, spoke of the “whispers on the street” evoked by the idea, suggesting the code-carriers would become “vessels for an ever-evolving conversation”.

“The underlying complexity is made simple and easy for people by just using SMS for this project,” added one of her fellow decision-makers, Google’s Tom Uglow.

“Poetry and technology combine to create subtle and playful reflections of the world we live in. It filled me with a childish delight.”

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