Announcing Hello Lamp Post! Winner of the Playable City Award 2013

Watershed is delighted to announce Hello Lamp Post! by London-based experience design studio PAN, as the winner of Bristol’s first ever Playable City Award. Their idea was chosen from 93 applications from around the world and will be produced and installed in Bristol this summer, before being toured internationally.

Hello Lamp Post! invites audiences to tune in to the secret conversations of the city and communicate through lamp posts, bus stops, post boxes and other street furniture. Part game, part story, anyone can play by texting in a unique code found on the city’s familiar street objects.

Lamp posts, bus stops and post boxes are the goosebumps of the city and so ubiquitous that they have become invisible. The ‘smart city’ approach is to augment them with technologies like digital displays, but Hello Lamp Post! seeks instead to make them playable, using existing city infrastructure to make an open, hospitable and playful experience which encourages people to notice and interact with what is around them.

The project will utilise the codes that city councils and public servants use to tell one object from another when a light bulb needs changing or a bus stop is in need of repair. For the first time, city dwellers will be able to use these codes too in order to play a game and tell a story.

Every post box in Bristol has a six figure code, every bollard has two, some of the benches have seven and the storm drains have 14. This summer you will be invited to text the word ‘Hello + the name of the object + its code’ to the special phone number and the item of street furniture will immediately text you back with a question. Will it be pleased to see you? Irritated at having been left in the rain? Or will it tell you a secret? The more you play, the more the hidden life of the city will be revealed.

The judges, musician Imogen Heap, Google’s Tom Uglow and Claire Doherty of Situations selected PAN Studio and their collaborators Gyorgyi Galik and Tom Armitage for their interesting response to the theme of taking a playful approach to public spaces, which uses inanimate objects to trigger playful interactions.

Imogen Heap says: ‘I love this for its whispers on the street, guardians in dark corners, humanising our cities’ appendages whose eyes and ears now have a voice. Vessels for an ever evolving conversation, connecting us together. They were there all along!’

Tom Uglow says: ‘Hello Lamp Post!stood out with a potential for both art and play using existing urban furniture. It points to a future made up of the physical objects already around us, the ‘internet of things’, and the underlying complexity is made simple and easy for people by just using SMS for this project. Poetry and technology combine to create subtle and playful reflections of the world we live in. It filled me with a childish delight.”

Claire Doherty says: “We were enchanted by this proposal and particularly loved the way it challenged the prevalence of mass-entertainment and spectacle, revealing an invisible ‘soft city’ – the exchanges and incidents that create a city’s social fabric. It’s rare to find a proposal which combines those intimate exchanges with the humour and playfulness of Hello Lamp Post!”

Ben Barker from PAN Studios says: “This is a huge surprise. 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!”

Clare Reddington, Judging Panel Chair says, “We were really excited by the applications we received and by the comments and questions from audiences about the short-listed entries.  The judges had a difficult decision to make but have selected an unusual and innovative project, which responds perfectly to the theme and seems very apt for Bristol. We will certainly have some challenges to make sure the project reaches as many people as possible, but am sure people will respond with curiosity and warmth and I am very much looking forward to waking up some street furniture this summer.”