Leimert Phone Company… the course?

This spring USC Professor François Bar and (then) Ph.D candidate Andrew Schrock brought lessons from the Leimert Phone Company’s community prototyping to a USC classroom! After all, couldn’t students also benefit from thinking through how to use design practices to foster innovative ways to use public space and access cultural assets?

We saw Payphones as an opportunity to”learn through hacking.” Students collaborated through hand-on activities on projects that improved communication in their community. Old friends from Leimert Park came by to guide the teams; Sabelo helped write code, and Patrice helped provide insightful feedback on the two completed prototypes. The below pictures show the progression the teams made throughout the semester, including brainstorming, designing, soldering, painting, wiring, and writing code to make everything work.


Wiring up keypad in external box

Moving the ‘PonicsPhone 

aqua-new friendMeeting a new friend found on our Kale

demoday-1-1Putting on the final touches… 

demoday-2-5The final working prototype with the team:
Alex, Amelia, & Crystal! 

Installed in the lobby of Wallis Annenberg Hall

The “Aquaponics Phone” demonstrates aquaponics – a closed ecosystem of fish, plants and water. When people pick up the handset it plays a menu to educate people about sustainable food initiatives in their area. By placing the working parts outside the payphone the team drew attention to the phone while clearing space for the aquaponics tank. The aquaponics payphone was installed in the lobby of the new Wallis Annenberg Hall. Eventually the team hopes it can be installed in Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, where it was initially conceptualized as living.

the bare phone
Payphone chassis ready for hacking! 

Sabelo working his magic with code 

Soldering the “PiPhone” conversion boards 

Adding some paint… 

Wiring up the camera

The finished prototype, which posts a pic to Twitter!
Nice job, Sabelo, Matt & Andrea!

“TommyCam” takes place-based pictures in key spots and uploads them to social media. The team noticed that certain hotspots on campus were particularly photogenic. Tours stopped at the Tommy status and people took group pictures in front of the fountain. They had a clever idea to make photographs as much about the place they were taken as the people that were in them. The corner seemed like the perfect spot for a place-based camera. The final phone captures and makes public online all the vibrant social activity and visitors that come through the space.