Origin of the K2 Kiosk and the 1924 Royal Fine Art Commission competition

The invention of the telephone, patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, is heralded as a watershed moment in communications technology. It was closely followed in the same year by Hungarian engineer Tivadar Puskas’ invention of the telephone switch, enabling the development of telephone exchanges and networks.

Initially this new technology was operated by a number of private companies who each administered a series of local exchanges to which the public could subscribe. However, this subscription was expensive and the reserve of mainly wealthy private individuals and businesses. Gradually over the next 20 years, the telephone exchange services become consolidated under the General Post Office (GPO), an arm of the Government, and in 1912 the telephone network became a nationalised service.

With nationalisation, the GPO were keen to standardise equipment and operations but with the descent of the first World War, it was not until 1921 that they began to achieve this. The first standard telephone kiosk known as ‘K1’ was introduced around the UK, but not in London. Made of concrete, many metropolitan boroughs were resistant to installing on streets of architectural importance. A common and overriding argument was that if a public kiosk was to be installed on streets of architectural merit, then it too had to be of matching stature.

In 1923 the Royal Fine Art Commission was invited by the GPO to hold a competition for the design of a second standardised kiosk to be rolled out across the country, this would be known as the ‘K2’. To ensure this kiosk would be of sifficient aesthetic merit, 3 architects were invited to submit designs; Robert Lorimer, John Burnett and the young Giles Gilbert Scott – who up until that time had been a designer primarily of churches.

To judge the competition, the submitted designs were transformed into actual-size wooden models so that the space, temperature and sound could be assessed, as well as their method of their construction. These prototypes were installed in a yard at the back of the National Gallery, London, where they were viewed and assessed by The Royal Fine Art Commission, GPO, and the London Metropolitan Boroughs. In September 1924 The Royal Fine Art Commission recommended Giles Gilbert Scott as first place, with Robert Lorimer being placed second. A period of further testings and costings were carried out on these 2 shortlisted designs and in March 1925 Giles Gilbert Scott received a letter confirming him as the winning designer of the K2. In March 1926 the first K2 was installed on Charing Cross Road, London.

Following the competition selection, the wooden prototype of Giles Gilbert Scott’s winning design had been placed in storage in North London. In late 1926, tt was installed under the entrance archway to Burlington House, Piccadilly. Fully operational for 90 years it is the site for Measure’s 2014 commission ‘Telephone’.

The invention of the telephone, patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, is heralded as a watershed moment in communications technology. It was closely followed in the same year by […]