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The Red Phone Boxes

The Red Phone Boxes (84)

Although today the red telephone boxes that in the past were all over London are a species in danger of extinction, they are still as much an icon of the city as they are part of the history of design. Perhaps the most surprising thing about these phone boxes is that something as simple as a receptacle that houses a public telephone has, over time, become a cult object that tourists take photos of to prove that “I was in London”.

The person responsible for designing the first red telephone box, called Kiosk 2 or simple K2, was the prestigious architect Giles Gilbert Scott, who won the public bid tendered out by the General Post Office in 1923. The selection committee decided on Scott’s project after seeing the balanced combination of aesthetics and functionalism of his phone box.

Their refined shape, with an air of a sentry box, crowned by a curved form that recalls a dome, perfectly fitted with ideas such as a practical ventilation system and the division of the glass surfaces into small panels designed for quick replacement in the case of breakage.

However, the red colour, one of the most characteristic aspects of the K2, was not Scott’s idea, having proposed that they be painted sky blue. It was the authorities that decided to paint them bright red to make them easier to see in case of emergency. Another of the designer’s proposals, of using steel for the structure, was rejected and the first phone boxes were made with cast iron.

After successive changes in the design, in 1936 Giles Gilbert Scott created the definitive model of the phone box, the K6, also called the Jubilee Kiosk because it was introduced in the year in which George V completed 25 years of his reign. The improvements in this model enabled a highly profitable industrial production process of these phone boxes to be initiated and in successive years 70,000 K6 invaded the streets of the United Kingdom. 

Although for decades they were of great practical use, in the age of the mobile phone the K6 may be running out of time, but it seems unlikely that the most nostalgic among us will allow them to disappear from our streets forever. So if you come across one, you must do the “Made in England” photo to recall your visit to this city forever. 

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