Public Toilets That Aren’t Crappy

British architects refresh the disgraceful state of public toilets.


The British used to take immense pride in their public toilets–before the 20th century, they were known as the best in the world. Today? Not so much. So RIBA–the Royal Institute of Architects–and the BBC’s Today program asked five of local talents to revive “the great British public toilet.” According to RIBA:


Whilst the architects have come up with some very innovative andplayful ideas, the underlying message about the lack of decent toiletprovision is a very real issue. Report after report confirms thattoday’s public toilets are significantly blighted by poor design andpoor maintenance, resulting in unsanitary facilities, anti-socialbehaviour and vandalism.

People’s lives are directlyaffected by the lack of public toilet provision: findings from Help theAged’s 2006 report “Nowhere to Go” show that people do not readilyleave their homes without the reassurance that they will have access topublic toilets. This means that 12% of older people feel trapped intheir own home and about 100,000 never go out. Disabled people andtheir carers, those with chronic health problems, and carers with youngchildren also lack the freedom to leave their homes without adequatetoilet facilities being available.

Yikes! Who knew.

Two of the designs caught our eye.

The first is by FAT, who are among the zaniest architects working today. They proposed a toilet housed in an enormous piece of public art–in this case, an enormous bust of Hercules lying on its side. As they write, “The sculpture itself is conceived as a humorous antidote tothe miserable and terrifying concrete…of our miserly public toilet provision. [Hercules] will inspire those who enter to conjure up whatever strengththey require to complete their transactions within.” (They’ve also got a thing for Hercules–recently they produced the brilliantly silly “Soft Hercules” stool, which looks like a classical bust but is actually soft and cushy.)

soft hercules

The second design comes from Will Alsop, who recently topped our list of the Most Creative People in Architecture. Maybe it’s not the prettiest design, but it does solve some unique problems in a very elegant way. Pointing out that public toilets are usually dank and smelly, he proposed one that lifts up to let you in. That makes the space open and fresh when not in use. The shroud would be lightweight, while the fixtures themselves would be made of concrete, to blend in with the street. Though would anyone really want to see a toilet sitting out in the open?

will alsop

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You can view the other three entries at Arch Daily or on the RIBA Web site.

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.