Thursday, February 03, 2011

Giles Gilbert Scott and the K6

click photo to enlarge
Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960), is known as the architect of Britain's largest church - the Anglican cathedral at Liverpool - as well as many other ecclesiastic and civic buildings including the new Bodleian Library, Oxord, and Battersea and Bankside power stations (the latter is now Tate Modern). However, in circles wider than architecture and its history he is best known as the designer of our country's iconic red telephone box.

The first telephone kiosks, erected in the 1920s, were rather dour, concrete structures. They received the designation K1, meaning kiosk design Number 1. In 1924 a competition was held to design something better. Three architects submitted their ideas, and the judges, the Royal Fine Arts Commission, selected Giles Gilbert Scott's entry as the winner. His K2 design incorporates vaguely classical elements and a top that is thought to derive from Sir John Soane's mausoleums at St Pancras Old Churchyard and Dulwich Picture Gallery. The main structure was made of cast iron (though Scott wanted mild steel), and the strong red colour was intended to make it easily noticed. It was introduced across London, and in 1926 a modified design (K3) made of reinforced concrete for low-revenue sites was produced. Fifty K4 derivatives were produced from 1927: they included a postage stamp dispensing machine. In 1934 a plywood kiosk was made, designed to be easily assembled and dis-assembled for exhibitions.

But, it was the K6 of 1935, designed to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V, that put the red telephone box on the map. Thousands were made to replace older models and for use in towns and cities across the country. The red colour was initially unpopular, and other colours (including grey) were used in areas of environmental and historical sensitivity. Eventually, public affection grew for the shape and colour, and it became a familiar and well-regarded part of Britain's landscape. Subsequent designs were made based on Scott's original. However, with the creation of British Telecom as a private company in the 1980s the old kiosks began to be replaced by newer, lower-maintenance designs. The life of these unloved boxes looks like being relatively short due to the now ubiquitous mobile phone. But, many of the original K6 boxes live on as listed buildings. Parishes were given the opportunity to retain the old style boxes providing they took over basic maintenance of the structures. Many did so, though not all treat them with the respect they deserve, and it is not unusual to see a faded box, the red paint now pink and peeling, languishing in a rural backwater.

Today's photograph shows the telephone box in the village where I live. I caught it on a morning of hoar frost and took the shot with my pocket camera.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.5
Shutter Speed: 1/125
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.66 EV
Image Stabilisation: On