It’s not uncommon to see tourists in London photographing red telephone boxes – after all, they are such an iconic feature of the urban landscape here. The design for the original K2 (short for Kiosk 2 as the concrete K1 design wasn’t a great success) phone box was created by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1926. It’s somewhat smaller than some of his creations, such as Liverpool Cathedral (which has its own telephone box inside!), Tate Modern and Battersea Power Station. Legend has it that the domed roof structure was inspired by the mausoleum for another noted architect, Sir John Soane.
I was surprised to learn this week that the prototype K2 phone box is still in use and stands in one of the entrance archways of the Royal Academy on Piccadilly. I was passing this morning, so I stopped to take a look. Surprisingly, the prototype is made of wood – the production models were manufactured in cast iron. It’s in pristine condition though and still contains a working telephone too.
Hidden away in the opposite arch, stands another K2 box – this one in cast iron and also home to a telephone. I can’t help wondering how often these particular phone boxes get used for calls, but it makes a change to see them as Scott intended, rather than containing a defibrillator or a small book library.
Ultimately the K2 box was only ever used in London as they were too expensive to manufacture in large quantities and only about 200 remain now. However, Scott’s K6 design from 1936 was lighter (around half a tonne less than the original!) and cheaper and over 20,000 of them were installed around the country.
4 September 2019