Norwegian design: The Riks telephone booth
M. Michael Brady
In the autumn of 1932, Oslo Telefonanlegg (Oslo Telephone Exchange) announced an architectural competition for an outdoor telephone booth, in function like those be set up elsewhere in Europe, starting with the British Post red K1 telephone booth of 1920. The Norwegian telephone booth was to cost no more than NOK 1000 ($180 at the exchange rate of the time), be strong enough to withstand winter weather, be amenable to mass production, and be easily set up anywhere one was needed.
Functionalist architect Georg Fredrik Fasting (1903-1987) of Bergen won the competition with Riks (literally The National), a simple booth of spray-painted sheet metal plates riveted to an angle iron frame. Production of the Riks booth started in 1933, and the first one was set up that year at the Norwegian America Line quay in Oslo. By the time production ceased in 1995, more than 9,000 Riks booths had been made. In the 1970s and 1980s, more than 6,000 were in service throughout the country.
But as private fixed-line telephones became more common in homes and businesses and then mobile phones became commonplace everyday items, the need for public phone booths dwindled. By 2007, only 420 were left in the country. The Riksantikvaren (literally “National antiquarian,” the Norwegian government agency equivalent to the U.S. federal governmental National Register of Historic Places) listed the Riks and decreed that 100 should be preserved.
Today those 100 listed Riks telephone booths are all that remain in the country. A pictorial book about them has been published (further reading), their design is included in the international Documentation of Modern Monuments (Docomomo) list of icons of modern architecture, and in August 2015 the 100 listed Riks booths were featured in an advertising campaign for Lotto (the National Lottery) covered live on prime-time TV.
Norges lille røde (Norway’s Little Red) by David Brand with photos of the 100 booths by Madelaine Brand, Oslo, Norsk telemuseum (Norwegian Telecommunications Museum) 2007, 136 page, 11×11 inch hardcover, ISBN 978-82-91335-37-7 (in Norwegian).
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 25, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.