Wednesday, 30 June 2010

tales from the red telephone box

this spring has been truly busy at mms, seeing us waxing lyrical about the good old public pay phone.

...you know, those bright red kiosks that used to be on every street corner from lands end to john o’ groats, as ubiquitous as the post box. much loved and recently declared a design classic, these national treasures have stayed in the public imagination long after their day to day utility has declined. after all when was the last time you actually got your 10 pence piece out, pulled open that iconic (and rather hefty) red door and climbed inside to make a call? not since your mobile became your laptop, camera, media player and all round personal assistant....


the phone box was first commissioned by the Post Office in the 1920’s to standardise the many different "call offices", "silence cabinets" and "kiosks" that had sprung up in shops, railway stations and other public places since the turn of the century. by the 1960s over 60,000 of the familiar red boxes had been installed across the whole country. since then the rise of the mobile phone, email and social networking has made the public telephone box, once so ubiquitous and centre stage, largely redundant and financially untenable. and despite a conservation campaign in the late eighties when 2000 boxes were designated as listed buildings, the new millennium has seen it recede to the peripheries, a forlorn relic of bygone times, decommissioned, vandalised, misused or threatened with removal.

only 4 such boxes remain in Manchester’s town centre: nestled unnoticed in pivotal conservation areas they visually embody the evolution of the modern city; that original, modern city that the marketeers constantly evoke and exploit...

this little box seemed to us at mms a fitting metaphor for the entire modernist project and so the invitation by FutureEverything to take part in their 2010 festival with its widened theme of the City offered the perfect chance to explore this notion via an art project, one which would re-connect these small buildings & listed structures with their surroundings, celebrate and commemorate their 75th birthday and raise their profile as at risk yet much loved structures.

the result was Ailis Ni Riain’s haunting sound installation which premiered in MOSI's red kiosk and remained installed throughout the festival. we have plans to expand the project in the future, but in the meantime here for the historically minded is the story behind the smallest 20th century listed buildings in the country, maybe the world...

read on for all the history and drama of the K2, k6 and ill fated K8...

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