Architect Turns a NYC Phone Booth into a Mini Library
Typically, a phone booth is a last resort. Your cell phone dies, or it’s in your other bag, and you’re forced to muster up quarters and the one phone number you actually have memorized to place a call, lest you’re stuck sorting through a dogeared phone book. Either way, placing this type of phone call requires courage and patience, for stepping inside of the typically graffitied, claustrophobic receptacles and crossing your fingers for a dial tone has become an act of antiquated bravery in today’s mobile-driven world.
Architect John Locke is determined to change that. His newest project, DUB 002, converted one of the defunct New York City eyesores into an eye-catching communal library. Locke built a bright orange book shelf inside of a graffiti-splattered booth on 96th street. The shelf encases the disused phone as well as houses a smattering of books donated by local residents. Locke’s idea is that the project will spruce up the now-dated technology and encourage book sharing.
“I’m interested in pay phones because they are both anachronistic and quotidian. Relics, they’re dead technology perched on the edge of obsolescence, a skeuomorph hearkening back to a lost shared public space we might no longer have any use for … But they can also be a place of opportunity, something to reprogram, and somewhere to come together and share a good book with your neighbors,” Locke writes on Graceful Spoon.
DUB 002 is part of the Locke’s Department of Urban Betterment undertaking (DUB), in which the architect purports to create a variety of “projects (interventions, speculations, events, or what have you),” that redefine city landscape. While Locke himself is unclear what each will entail, he ensures they will be revolutionary.
“But rest assured that the projects that go here will, through a modest mix of self-made and self-guided humor and creativity, explore the possibilities for an alternative engagement with our urban environment that move beyond the culturally irresponsible tract architecture has taken in failing to confront the excesses of our consumer culture,” he tells questioners on the website. “Our alternatives will exist as a sort of game, in the liminal, unstable urban spaces – a type of terrain vague where overlapping bureaucratic landscapes render space forgotten, and allow the construction of speculations on architecture.”
002 meets those requirements, though the first of its kind failed. Locke attempted a similar mini-library in an abandoned phone booth eight blocks away, but perhaps because of the booth’s less populated location, the shelf vanished in ten days; the books, six hours.
Thus, 002′s books are branded with a small logo at the bottom of the spine, and the shelf features an engraving of DUB’s seal. Locke hopes the added insignia will not deter passers-by from selecting and sharing the literature.
“I hoped this would prevent the books from easily winding up in the hands of sidewalk book resellers, but I fear that the marking implies an ownership that prevents a casual exchange of taking and leaving their own books. I observed a number of people reach out and pick up a book, flip through it, but then return it to the shelf. Some even doubled back for a second look and to engage in a closer inspection of the shelves, but they still refrained from actually taking a book,” the architect observes on Graceful Spoon.
Still, if it the project takes any cues from the similarly-conceptualized (though less as means of art than as means of community) “Phone-boox” by James Econs in London, people will have no problem putting their noses in the books.