The red telephone box, an instantly recognizable but increasingly obsolete fixture around London, has been treated to a bittersweet yet highly apropos makeover that’s sure to leave those longing for the good old days of mod bobs, minis and Supermac crying into their cuppa.
On Tottenham Court Road, a single démodé London phone booth dressed in the standard “currant red” has been painted over in green and outfitted with roof-mounted solar panels. Inside the kiosk, the payphone hardware has been removed and replaced with charging stations for mobile devices and screens that, naturally, play advertisements.
An additional five so-called solarboxes will join the kick-off kiosk at Tottenham Court Road Station by next spring. It’s expected that each solarbox, capable of boosting device batteries by 20 percent in 10 minutes flat, can charge up to 100 mobile devices per day.
And those looking to use a solarbox needn’t have a pocketful of pence or swipe a credit card. The sextet of charging stations will be free of charge although users are, as mentioned, subjected to a stream of adverts while they patiently wait for their batteries to receive a boost.
As reported by the BBC, the entrepreneurial duo behind the solarbox concept, Harold Craston and Kirsty Kenney, are gravitating toward "short, fun and exciting ads showing exclusive content.” Uber and Tinder are both among the advertisers already on-board while 30 percent of the advertising content will be reserved for “community projects.”
Craston, a graduate of the London School of Economics, tells the BBC: “I lived next to a phone box in my second year at uni and walked past it every day. I thought, 'There are 8,000 of these lying unused in London and we must be able to find a use for them.’ ”
The solarboxes will receive daily upkeep and be locked overnight in an effort to ward off vandalism. No word if there will be a posted time limit. Like payphones of yore, it’s totally likely that you'll get someone sitting in there bogarting the thing for what seems like hours as other impatient users hover aggressively about.
The preservation and reuse of the beloved yet antiquated phone boxes has become a sensitive point of contention for Londoners and those living in other British cities and overseas territories. No one, in London in particular, wants to see the crown-emblazoned payphone kiosks go away for good.
At the same time, hardly anyone, even those who want to save the phone boxes, uses them. But are preserving the booths — not to be confused with the blue British police boxes that are still popular for time-traveling purposes — worth keeping around, if only as ornamental objects?
NPR reporter Ari Shapiro has previously explored the deep emotional attachment that many Londoners have with the phone boxes, first introduced in the mid-1920s. Calling them “a revered icon, as much as the black taxicab or the double-decker bus,” Shapiro speaks with one conflicted Londoner who hasn’t used a public payphone in over 15 years but believes that a world without them would be on par with “losing the Empire State Building from New York.”
In addition to the ad-funded solarbox pilot scheme, some British phone boxes have been transformed into mini lending libraries and art spaces. For a brief moment, one box was even converted into a micro-pub while another initiative in Scotland involved outfitting a disused booth with emergency medical equipment.
However, not all phone boxes have been fortunate enough to be bestowed with rather clever functions beyond their original intended use. These are removed and junked.
Craston and Kenny were rewarded 5,000 pounds ($8,000) as this year's second place winners in London Mayor Boris Johnson’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Said Johnson in a statement: “In our modern world, where hardly any Londoner is complete without a raft of personal gizmos in hand, it's about time our iconic boxes were update for the 21st century, to be useful, more sustainable.”
Those looking for a truly next-level London phone box cellphone charging experience may want to consider this smartphone accessory.
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