The City Speaks

Places and Sites Public Realm Urban
Material and Skills Digital


The City Speaks - tidal barrier
  • Artists: Michael Pinsky
  • Location: Hull
  • Date: 2017 – 2017
  • Produced by: Hull UK City of Culture
  • External links: The City Speaks

The City Speaks was commissioned as part of Hull UK City of Culture 2017 and designed to act as a 21st century Speakers’ Corner in which open-air public speaking took on epic proportions as spoken words were translated to text and relayed on one of the towers supporting Hull’s tidal barrier.

On the quayside of Humber Dock Street, a steel lectern provided a platform where the public were invited to broadcast their thoughts and feelings. A microphone captured their words, and software transcribed them into a scrolling dot-matrix text on the tidal surge barrier.

The plinth and the tidal barrier perfectly aligned at each end of Humber Street, allowing the speaker to see thier own speech being displayed across Hull, embodied into one of the city’s architectural icons.

City Speaks Participant

The City Speaks - participant

The City Speaks worked by using state-of-the-art Google speech-to-text technology. Speech is picked up by a microphone inside a plinth on Humber Dock Street, which faced the tidal barrier at the opposite end of Humber Street. In almost in real time, recording were sent to a cloud with “masses of computer power”, then a combination of word recognition and grammar prediction allows words to be projected on to the barrier.

Profanity filters were in place and the technology is so intuitive that it even began to “learn” the Hull accent and dialect. 

The City Speaks - in situ

The City Speaks - in situ