The Original Red Box Gets Revamped in London

The late British architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott will be remembered for leaving two indelible marks on London: his epic, 38-acre, super-coveted Battersea Power Plant (now in the hands of Malaysian property developers), and the decidedly smaller, but instantly more recognizable, red telephone booth.

Even as the functionality of the phone booths falls (or should we just come out and say it already fell?) into obsolescence, it remains a staple in London’s visual identity. They’re getting the star treatment this month from BT ArtBox, an outdoor art exhibition that recruited 80 various visionaries — artists, designers, and architects ranging from royal wedding milliner Philip Treacy to our favorite deconstructivist Zaha Hadid — to reimagine the archaic red boxes. It celebrates them as a symbol of the city, which in turn has a lot to celebrate this year (the Olympics or Diamond Jubilee may ring a bell). After a month-long, city-wide exhibition, the boxes go up for auction to benefit ChildLine, a nonprofit children’s support hotline, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. (London’s got a knack for these city-wide, collaborative charitable operations, we’ve noticed).

Zaha Hadid's less-than-imaginative "Perspicere"

The participants took two markedly different approaches: some slapped some predictable signature moves on their boxes and called it a day (ahem, are swirls really all you’ve got, Hadid?), while the rest took it as an opportunity to make witty (and maybe in one case, horribly misguided) cultural statements, or truly innovative sculpture.

Simeen Farhat‘s “Outside the Box” provides the words of Nietzsche, Lord Byron, and others in red polymer resin — fantastically inspirational when you’ve got nothing to say to the person on the other end.

Keeping up with reality, Alasdair Scott‘s “TweetBox” reminds us what we really use our phones for.

The DnA Factory‘s “The Poetry Of Life” offers a romanticized portait of Victorian times with these delicate pink roses bursting through the boxes’ exterior. How quaint.

Gerry Judah‘s precariously stacked “Slip”

Bert Gilbert‘s unfortunate “Padded Cell Phone Box” screams less of the comfortable safe haven he intended than a freaky asylym. But at least his heart was in the right place.

The reimagined red boxes are on view at various London landmarks through July 16. They’ll be auctioned off by Sotheby’s at the National Portrait Gallery on July 18 to benefit ChildLine.

— Janelle Zara