Listen Sandy

We didn't want to forget.

People experienced Sandy in many different ways, and where one resided during the storm gives a different perspective on what happened. As things go back to normal, we wanted to remember that for a brief moment in time, we all shared in this humbling experience, in the face of all our supposed progress. We decided that we wanted to collect all these different stories and find a way to share them with people for the future so that we don’t forget.

Listen Sandy is an audio installation project that uses pay phones around New York and New Jersey as a distributed time capsule to remind us of our thoughts, reflections, and realizations during the hurricane.

Each reflection we collected lives in its own payphone. Pedestrians learn about the project through thought-provoking questions written on the sidewalk. We created an accompanying website where people can phone in their reflections, locate participating payphones, and learn more about the project.

This was a 4-week project completed for Public Interfaces taught by Ian Curry, done in collaboration with Guri Venstad. My involvement included concept design and development, visual design, user research, service design, and prototyping. Before launch, a reporter from WNBC contacted us, wanting to include Listen Sandy in the local nightly news.


In the areas without power or cell phone service people started gathering out on the street and talking to each other on the street corners. It was as if time had been set back 20 years. The oddest thing was seeing people line us at pay phones again. To us, the pay phones became a symbol for the things we take for granted.

…Standing there on the corner last night, looking at this girl on the phone, blinded by the high beams of the truck behind us, i couldn’t help but smile. here are two technologies supposedly on their way out (landlines and fossil fuel), but when all the “new” stuff can’t support us, we’re back to square one. what will happen in a future where both are truly extinct, instead of just endangered? –Naveen Selvadurai

We decided to use pay phones in various locations of New York as audio installations where you can listen to stories and reflections from people around what they experienced during Sandy. We pulled questions from the stories we got, such as “what does it mean to have a home?” that we would write on the ground near the pay phone to capture people’s attention and create more reflection.


We used Twilio to set up the phone number and database for voice recordings. The number you call in to listen to the stories is toll free from the selection of pay phones we made for the installations. We created the website that has information about the project including the location of the pay phone installations.

Initial concept storyboard

Initial concept storyboard

To give a preview of the experience, we created a prototype of a phone booth using foam core, an embedded iphone, and a phone handset.

To give a preview of the experience during our final presentation, we created a prototype of a pay phone using foam core, silver spray paint, an embedded iphone, and a phone handset.

Below is the reflection we embedded in our pay phone prototype.