It’s one of London’s most famous sights. But – in the days of mobile phones – what purpose does the red phone box have, other than being a distinctive backdrop to tourists photos? However, there are plenty of ways these boxes still brighten our London lives – here are just a few of London’s most unusual phone boxes.
Image credit: Andy Aldridge
First a little bit of history. There is no one red phone box design – they have been through various incarnations in their history. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed ‘Kiosk No 2’ or K2, intended to make the design palatable to London boroughs. You can see a wooden prototype of the design at the Royal Academy (see above). However, it was very costly to produce and very few were actually made.
Image credit: 5years.com
Far more common on the streets of London (and the rest of the UK) is one of the subsequent models, the K6. It was a K6 David Bowie posed in for the artwork for his Ziggy Stardust LP. The box, on London’s Heddon Street, has since been subject to fan pilgrimages, and possibly even more graffiti than the much-abused average phone box.
Alternative uses for the phone box
Image credit: solarbox
Thanks to mobile phones, the phone box doesn’t get the use it once did. We’ve seen some converted into cash machines, but another innovative solution to putting them back into use is the solarbox. Devised by two LSE Geography students, it offers a free charging point for phones thanks to a custom-made solar power roof. It won them £5,000 in the Mayor of London Low Carbon Prize competition, and the first and only one out in the wild to date can be found opposite the Dominion theatre on Tottenham Court Road (although a sneak peak on their twitter account suggests a design will also be introduced at tube stations).
Image credit: Matt Brown
We also love Lewisham’s Micro Library – who knew so many books could fit into a phone box?
Image credit: socarra
North London has been equally inventive with its phone box. In Archway, a couple of phone boxes have been converted to flower boxes.
The phone box as art
Image credit: Wayan Vota
One of the most famous pieces of phone box art is Out of Order by David Mach. These falling phone boxes were created in the 1980s and can be found in Kingston.
Phone boxes were also used as a site of creativity for the 2012 BT ArtBox project.
Image credit: duncan c
Street artist D7606, meanwhile, is well known for his paste-ups of ladies in phone boxes – Marilyn and Rihanna here were spotted in Shoreditch.
Spotted anything more interesting than a call girls card in your local phone box recently? Let us know in the comments. And for more sustainable or quirky London, or to discover more cool street art, come and join us on one of our alternative walking tours.