TréPhonos Calls Up History In Houston

Houston’s historic third ward, aka “The Tre,” is ripe rife with history, and some of that history is digitally preserved and accessible through an art installation in the form of repurposed payphones. We love payphones for obvious reasons and seeing them alive and kicking warms our hearts. Packing them with local history checks even more boxes. Twenty-four people collaborated to rebuild the three phones which can be seen in the video after the break, including three visual artists, three ambassadors, and eighteen residents who put their efforts into making the phones relevant not only to the ward but specifically to the neighborhood. One phone plays sound clips from musicians who lived or still live in the ward, another phone has spoken word stories, and the third has field recordings from significant locations in The Tre.

Each phone is powered by a solar cell and a USB battery pack connected to a Teensy with an audio adapter board, and a 20 watt amplifier. Buttons 1-9 play back recorded messages exclusive to each phone, star will record a message, and zero will play back the user-recorded message. Apps for smart phones are easy for young folks to figure out but the payphones ensure that these time capsules can be appreciated by people of any age, regardless of how tech savvy they are and that is wise as well as attractive. The coin return lever and coin slot also have associated sound clips unlike regular payphones so the artists get extra credit.

Did we say that we love payphones? Yes, yes we did. The very first post on Hackday was for a redbox and that got the ball rolling.

Via PJRC blog.

7 thoughts on “TréPhonos Calls Up History In Houston

  1. I wonder what happened to all the Bell picturephones? Somehow this reminds me of them, or maybe something else that I can’t place. But the Picturephonescwere a big hit at Expo ’67 (and I gather the 1964 New York World’s Fair), and I was young enough to be impressed, maybe just by TouchTone. There was such hope, but it never went far, surely at some point they were scrapped. But so long ago that they wouldn’t be reused like we do here in the future. We got that future eventually, but not the way Bell planned it.

    Or maybe this reminds me of something else at Expo ’67, press buttons and get responses. A vague memory popped into my mind, but I can’t quite recover it.


  2. This is probably a good time to bring up the FuTel project, which also puts new guts into old payphones. But FuTel connects them to each other, and to a whole network, enabling all sorts of weird and wonderful services.

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