Site Unseen: K2

K2Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past, they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

End of the line for K2. As iconic as my black cab, the K2 telephone boxes have since 1936, been an intrinsic part of London’s urban landscape. But who actually uses telephone boxes these days or even notices them?

With almost universal mobile phone ownership, you could say that red telephone boxes are hidden in plain sight. Their original function has been overtaken by a number of uses its designer couldn’t have imagined possible.

[T]HEIR USE as a rather well-designed notice booth for call-girls (or boys) is now falling by the wayside as they find more effective ways of advertising their services and using it as a public urinal has its limitations, not least that its cramped compartment renders the user in danger of watering their shoes.

With brilliant originality they named it K2 for Kiosk No. 2, it was a course preceded by K1 which was constructed in concrete. The design this time in cast iron, by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott had won a Post Office competition three years earlier and started a whole series of similar looking telephone boxes.

Its distinctive domed roof and all-over red make it the prototype of the classic K6, which was introduced nearly ten years later. Ventilation was provided via the crown in the roof section – it was made up from small, round holes!

Legend has it that the dome was Scott’s homage to the 18th Century architect Sir John Soane, R.A. (1753-1837) whose family tomb is surmounted by a very similar feature. Unlike the tops of modern British phone booths, Scott’s Soanian dome is a proper roof, dealing effectively with rain and litter while also being aesthetically pleasing.

But what makes K2 special is that it was mostly restricted to the London area and considerably bigger than its successors.

In London kiosks positioned by tourist locations have survived BTs desire to replace them with utility “shower cabinets” and stand as an iconic feature of London. Their purpose now would seem only to be as a photo opportunity for visitors.

Without ever suggesting their removal, could we not find some new use for these beautiful structures? For a start, the London Tourist Board should come to an arrangement with BT to pay for their maintenance and cleaning, covered in grime they’re a disgrace.

Perhaps we could use them as one man internet cafes, or greenhouses with orchids.

I am indebted to wallyg at flickr for permission to use his photo of K2; his pages contain a wealth of images and background information on London.

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