10 Incredible Repurposed Telephone Booths
By Chris Barker, California Phone Lookup Blog, 16 April 2013.
By Chris Barker, California Phone Lookup Blog, 16 April 2013.
In the modern world of instant communications, the humble telephone booth may seem a bit like a dusty old relic. These sturdy old symbols of pre-wireless communications have been gradually falling out of favour since the introduction of the cell phone in 1973. Those phone booths that remain are sometimes being converted into wireless stations to serve their technological successors - smartphones, laptops and tablets.
However, just because their technology is becoming obsolete, it doesn’t mean the structures themselves can’t be reused in new and inventive ways. There’s great aesthetic merit to many old phone booths - from sleek urban designs to the classic red telephone boxes seen in the UK. And just because such kiosks no longer serve their original function, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a place. Quite the opposite.
These 10 telephone booths have all been repurposed - and now serve their local communities as libraries, public showers, aquariums, art galleries and more.
10. Public Library
If you can’t get your nose out of a book even when you’re on the move, you might want to check out one of these mini lending libraries, located in New York City. Set up close to 96th Street, the book distribution centre above was created in 2011 by architect John Locke as part of his Department of Urban Betterment (DUB) project.
“Dub 002,” as this booth was named, was fitted with plywood shelves and stocked with books donated by local residents. The aim of the project is to allow pedestrians to take a book from the shelf and then leave one of their own - although Locke says that many people are reluctant to do the latter.
The library pictured was actually Locke’s second shot at creating a new kind of book distribution system. The first telephone booth library, set up eight blocks further north, had its books taken within hours and was stripped of its shelves after 10 days. Even so, by August 2012, Locke had created four of these installations.
Locke says, “Even as they are rendered obsolete by the ubiquity of smart phones, I’m interested in pay phones because they are both anachronistic and quotidian… They’re dead technology perched on the edge of obsolescence.” [More here and here]
9. Art Gallery
In 2009, this British telephone box was transformed into what’s been called the world’s smallest public art gallery. Within its tiny viewing space, work was displayed by the likes of Queen guitarist Brian May and photographer Mariana Cook - which is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that the telephone kiosk was bought for a mere £1 (US$1.53).
Located in the market town of Settle in North Yorkshire, this classic red phone box was purchased by the Settle Town Council in 2009 as part of UK telecommunication giant BT’s Adopt-a-Kiosk initiative. Now known as “The Gallery on the Green,” it was spruced up and refitted as an art gallery by volunteers, and includes an ornate ceiling as well as a mosaic floor. Soon after opening, the gallery won regional first place in a competition to find the best use of an old BT phone box. [More] [Gallery on the Green website]
8. Fish Tank
Collaborative art group Kingyobu created this aquarium in Osaka, Japan. Since 2011, the five-member group has been refurbishing telephone booths and turning them into public fish tanks, bringing happiness to passers-by.
The five Kyoto University art and design students’ motives aren’t clear, but the name of the group more or less translates into “goldfish club.” Interestingly, in Japan goldfish are believed to bring good luck. The group has included behind-the-scenes images on its Facebook page to give Internet users an insight into how the installations are built - and, who knows, perhaps encourage people to create aquariums of their own.
Details on who looks after and feeds the goldfish are hard to come by, but hopefully they have their own personal fish keeper to keep them at their scaly best. [More]
This ATM may represent the future for phone booths in Britain. In 2006, BT began installing ATMs in red telephone boxes across the UK in towns such as Swindon, Northampton and Slough.
Payphone use in the UK went down by 50 percent between 2008 and 2010, and many phone booths have already been sold. This evidence of the impact of cell phones casts doubt on the survival of the public telephone. Out of 12,500 red UK phone boxes, over half are at risk of being closed.
In 1924, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed the first red British telephone box, and its instantly recognizably form has long been considered an icon of UK culture. The scheme to use these phone booths as ATMs may just give the historic structures a new lease of life - and save them from the junkyard. [More here and here]
6. Miniature Homeless Shelter
Created by Vancouver-based firm Contexture Design in 2010, this installation aims to address some of the issues of homelessness. Company co-founders Nathan Lee and Trevor Coghill view the decline of public telephone booths - which are used by the dispossessed to stay in touch with the outside world - as having a negative effect on Canadian cities.
Yet although it provides a space for resting, reading and making calls, this cosy looking phone booth is not intended to be an answer to the problem of homelessness. Still, its designers suggest that such booths could be set up in groups to cater for street communities, providing washing and cooking facilities and building co-operation.
Coghill says, “We were very conscious in the design of this project not to stigmatize the homeless population. Instead, we wanted to create a dignified and useful living space that would appeal to everyone.” [More] [Contexture Design website]
This telephone box in Leverick Bay in the British Virgin Islands has been reinvented as a retro-looking public shower. Prominently placed at the end of a pier, the distinctive looking red phone box is a reminder of British influence on these Caribbean islands, an influence that’s still strong to this day.
Since the 17th century, the isles of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke - as well as 50 other smaller islands - have been considered overseas territories of Britain. And here, the crown symbol on the telephone box is a reminder that, even today, executive authority in the islands remains with Queen Elizabeth II. On the other hand, the structure could be seen as a symbolic vestige of the declining British Empire, clinging on in the 21st century.
4. Electric Vehicle Recharging Station
Telekom Austria is another telecommunications provider that has found an inventive, modern-day use for phone booths. Since 2010, the company has been running a pilot program to convert telephone booths into electric vehicle (EV) battery recharging stations for hybrid and electric cars as well as scooters and motorcycles. The program is intended as a way to give the company’s 13,500 telephone kiosks a new lease of life.
As part of the project’s first phase, 30 stations have been set up, with the plan that they be free to use during the trial period. As of 2010, Austria had slightly fewer than 4,000 registered electric and hybrid cars on its roads, so the revamped booths probably won’t be heavily used at first.
Eventually, Telekom Austria aims to charge a nominal fee for the use of its converted telephone booths. In the long run, according to one motor vehicle association, the number of electric cars in Austria is expected to increase to 405,000 by 2020. [More] [Telekom Austria website]
This repurposed telephone booth demonstrates one of the more practical uses to which a small but sturdy structure can be put out in the woods. Spotted in Säppi, Finland, the makeshift outhouse offers users a roof over their heads while nature calls. Mind you, it looks like it might be a little draughty.
Perhaps surprisingly (or maybe not), this isn’t the only case of an old phone booth being transformed into a toilet. In 2010, British senior citizen John Long converted a red telephone box into an outside lavatory that featured frosted windows and a heater.
Another BT scheme for reusing red telephone boxes involves the installation of defibrillators. In 2011, the company worked with the Community Heartbeat Trust (CHT) to put defibrillators in place in five decommissioned phone booths across the country, with BT footing the bill for the equipment.
A defibrillator works by applying electrical shocks to a heart affected by life-threatening conditions, allowing the organ to resume its normal rhythm. This can help a patient to survive until they reach the hospital. “We are immensely grateful to BT for their help in this novel use of a familiar icon,” says national secretary of the CHT Martin Fagan. “Phone boxes are ideal locations for emergency medical equipment because they’re often in the centre of a village.” [More]
Renamed the “Box Lounger,” this reinvented British telephone box was designed by Benjamin Shine as part of BT’s “Artbox” exhibition. The project was launched in 2012 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of young people’s charity ChildLine. With its studded leather cover and striking colour scheme, this stylish red sofa certainly makes a big visual impact. It’s also a terrific example of an artist realizing the different possibilities held by a pre-existing object.
Other contributions to the Artbox project included Ted Baker creation the “Ding A Bling Box” - a phone both that was painted gold and decorated with murals - and David Mach’s “T For Telephone,” which featured a booth held aloft by an Atlas-like figure. [More here and here] [Benjamin Shine website]
Top image: Phone booth aquarium (image source)
Related Post: 10 Wonderful Libraries Repurposed from Unused Structures