Old red telephone box in Wellington

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Telephone Box in Post Office Square, Wellington, NZ. 2012

Telephone Box, Post Office Square, Wellington is a rare surviving example of a ‘K2’ (Kiosk 2) style telephone box designed by British architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1924. Manufactured from 1926 to about 1936, the cast iron structures were expensive to produce (£35), and by 1934 only 1700 had been made.

Telephone boxes came into use around the 1910s in New Zealand. By March 1926, 409 ‘Public Call Offices’ (as they were then called) were in operation in the country, rising to 679 in 1930. The Post and Telegraph Department began importing K2 boxes around 1927, noting they were more aesthetically pleasing than wooden or concrete boxes.

The Telephone Box was originally located on Karori Road, but was moved to its current location, and restored, in 1991. Post Office Square is an appropriate location, as well as being a busier area; it is so named because the General Post Office used to be located there on Customhouse Quay.

Telecom’s decision to repaint the red boxes a pale blue colour in 1988 caused a protest by Christchurch’s Wizard and Alf’s Imperial Army, who repainted some of them red. Nevertheless, most of the old red boxes were soon replaced with new ones. With increasing use of mobile phones, public telephones are declining in usage.

Telephone Box is painted red with a green dome. It has all the characteristics of the K2 design, except that it no longer has glass ‘public telephone’ signs above the walls and its current door is not a K2 design. The K2 boxes were 9 feet 3 inches (2.74 metres) in height and sat on a base 3 feet 6 inches square (0.91 metre). They were made of cast iron sections, with the exception of the door, which was teak. The pierced crown in the pediments is for ventilation as much as for decoration and symbolism. The panel below the glass panes is also pierced in the form of four ‘diamonds’ for ventilation.

Telephone Box has aesthetic, architectural, historical and social significance. The K2 telephone box was Classical in conception and care was taken over the details. Combining a utilitarian object with elements of traditional architectural design made the K2 a good example of British industrial design. There are now only about 50 red telephone boxes in functional use throughout the country and over half of these are described as replicas. Telephone Box is a rare reminder of a once common sight on New Zealand’s streets. It is listed on the New Zealand Heritage List – you can find more information from the report I wrote when I worked at Heritage New Zealand here.

See also my post on Heritage Research.

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