Famous and not so famous Brits – Giles Gilbert Scott
Giles Gilbert Scott, designer of the red telephone kiosks
Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) is said to have “fused tradition with modernity” in a very British way. He applied historic styles to industrial structures in his designs, from the Battersea and Bankside power stations in London, to Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, and to the K2 telephone kiosk. He has been described as “a bastion of the architectural establishment in early 20th century Britain”.
He was born in Hampstead, London, into a family of architects; both his father George Gilbert Scott and grandfather Sir George Gilbert Scott, designer of the Albert Memorial, had made their names in the profession. He was educated at a Jesuit boarding school; then, in 1898, his mother, who was keen to ensure that Giles and his brother Arthur maintained the family tradition, arranged for him to become a pupil of the architect Temple Moore. While he was employed in Moore’s office, he entered and won the competition for the new Liverpool Anglican cathedral in 1902, working on his design in the evenings. Reportedly, the selection committee were embarrassed to find that the winner was a young man of twentytwo, with no experience, and, what is more, a Roman Catholic. Consequently, after declaring Scott the architect for the cathedral, they appointed an older architect to collaborate with him. Scott objected to this and, in 1907, assumed sole control. In 1910, he revised his original design, and although the Cathedral was consecrated in 1924, its construction was only completed in 1980. Scott was also responsible for designing the red telephone kiosks which were once a common sight throughout Britain; today, around 200 can still be found in rural or tourist areas of the country (especially central London) and others are still in use in countries which have come under British influence. He was invited in 1924 to enter a competition to design a public telephone kiosk for the General Post Office. Known as the K2, Scott’s kiosk was originally intended to be “silver, with a blue-green interior”, but the GPO chose red. The design went through a number of modifications, until Scott was recalled to design the K6 in 1935 to commemorate King George V’s silver jubilee. This became the most widely used version of the kiosk, with thousands being installed. The design was an example of Scott’s technique of “packaging modernity in British traditionalism”, as it included elements drawn from the tomb of the architect John Soane, designed in 1815. Scott transformed the telephone kiosk from a symbol of modernity, which many British people saw as a threat, into something that seemed reassuringly familiar. In his inaugural address as president of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1933, he advocated a “middle line” between tradition and innovation. This “middle line” was shown in Scott’s best known London buildings, the power stations at Battersea (1929-1935) and Bankside (1947-1960), where he disguised their industrial purpose behind Gothic facades. Battersea, especially, became a popular London landmark, and Bankside now houses the Tate Modern art gallery. But for those attracted by new styles of architecture, Scott seemed too conservative. Indeed, many of the numerous commissions he accepted were for churches, universities and other traditional institutions, although he also designed industrial buildings and two more power stations, and was chosen to repair the House of Commons after it had been damaged by bombs in World War Two. He received many awards for his work and when in 1949 Princess Elizabeth presented him with the Albert medal of the Royal Society of Arts, she hailed him as ‘the builder of a lasting heritage for Britain’. He continued to design churches until his death in 1960, as the age of 80.