A public toilet, according to the architects

To celebrate their 175 anniversary, the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) together with BBC’s Radio 4 called architects to re think the public toilet, addressing the lack of a decent toilet provision.

In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, public toilet provision was a matter of civic pride; British public toilets were the best in the world. Local authorities would compete to create beautiful facilities which demonstrated the latest developments in sanitary engineering and architecture. This project aims to revive that tradition, and to position the public loo once again as a centerpiece for urban regeneration and to ultimately improve people’s lives.

The result? Judge by yourself. My favorite is FAT’s, but that´s just because I fall for everything they do.

All the toilets and their description´s after the break:


The state of the everyday “public convenience” effects all of us, whenever we are out and about, whatever our age or background. So, in order to define a brief, 100 people* were asked what they thought about public loos, their concerns and aspirations…and this is what the survey said:

75% of people want a ‘hands-free’ toilet experience 70% of people are willing to spend up to 20p on the use of a high quality public toilet – and in fact many people just “go private” to access a toilet making use of pubs, bars, cafés, hotels 65% of people want a more hygienic environment than public toilets currently offer.

We combined this desire for cleanliness and quality with putting beauty back on to our streets. So our WC is elevated to the status of a well-loved civic monument – as a series of public sculptures, a celebration of sanitation. Offering a bespoke sense of place rather than a standardised solution, the toilets incorporate Fountains, perhaps devoted to mythical river gods, and offer the city both art and practicality. Along with statuary and sculpture, each would be designed with a free-flowing drinking and handwash fountain, generous informal seating as well as the promise of best-maintained toilets in the western world, supported of hourly visits from a new breed of urban patrol: the Toilet Wardens.

Inside each toilet is a “touch free experience”, where you -

1. Pay by credit card/cash/mobile/SMS – just like parking meters 2. Enter using automatically opening doors, auto lock remotely, use auto flush and hands-free taps to avoid touching. 3. Rather than using a full bleach-steam clean like today’s pod toilets (which scare users lest they too become steam-cleaned…), we propose simple self cleaning toilet seats, with sensors that recognise when immediate maintenance is needed. 4. And ever mindful of waste…water from the drinking fountains can be recycled to flush WC cisterns and to clean the surrounding pavements, and the grey water from the wash hand basin itself can be used to irrigate local trees and parks, and simple photovoltaic cells would power the automatic sensors and sign.

In essence, these micro-monuments would offer the promise of personal hygiene on an infrastructural scale.

addendum: * vox pox survey taken The Strand, London, Tuesday 21st July 2009.

Eva Jiricna Architects

This system of public toilets could be treated as a ready made industrial product which is delivered straight from the manufacturer and ‘plugged’ into it’s specific location. The following components are proposed which could be assembled according to varying priorities around one service point: standard WC; urinal unit; disabled people’s unit; parent & baby unit.

There is also the option of provision for undercover seating, advertisements, video projection, vending machines etc.

The service point in the centre is to accommodate connection to local sewer or septic tank, with ventilation/heating and one could consider varying options – depending on the situation of the unit – solar batteries, wind turbine, light sculpture and so on.

The construction is a pre-fabricated pod with a dual skin arrangement insulated in the middle, incorporating automatic flush, lighting, alarm. When in use the units could glow or even music. They could be connected to cable or other TV agencies, as well as a direct link to the emergency services. The materials could vary, perhaps GRP or GRC could be the basic option. The doors would operate like a VW van, opening outwards and sideways.


Our proposal is for a toilet housed in a piece of public art, in this case a giant sculptural Hercules’ head in the classical style lying on the ground. It can be entered through a door, which we have based on the door of no.10 Downing Street. Listeners/viewers may infer what they like from the symbolism of the door, but the sculpture itself is conceived as a humorous antidote to the miserable and terrifying concrete Tardis that are the unfortunate mainstay of our miserly public toilet provision. It is hoped that Hercules will inspire those who enter to conjure up whatever strength they require to complete their transactions within. Inside will be a view of the sky through an oculus in Hercules’ truncated neck.

The design suggests the gendering of public toilets, something we are sure many women especially would welcome. Perhaps the ladies could take the form of a sculptural head representing Athena, Goddess of wisdom, warfare, strategy, handicrafts and reason, or Aphrodite, Goddess of love, lust and beauty.

Robert Adams Architects

Like all public fixtures on our streets, practical functions should be an opportunity for fine design. The classical lavatory is a modern facility with the best standards and access and it is also a pavilion in the tradition of the old telephone box and London’s taxi drivers’ shelters. It is made of pressed metal, would be prefabricated in parts and economical to make in numbers. It can be a male, female and disabled WC and can be combined to incorporate all three. The circular form can fit in just about anywhere. It can be discretely coloured to blend into the background or brightly coloured to act as striking feature. Its classical form would be suitable for new and historical areas and rather than being an unfortunate necessity would be an interesting ornament.

Will Alsop

Open Loo (not so bog standard)

A public lavatory should feel fresh and clean and a lot of our perception of cleanliness is through smell. So I propose a loo that lifts up to let you in, thereby remaining open and well-ventilated when not in use. The toilet furniture would be made from concrete, so becoming part of the street, wheras the object which encloses it would be lightweight, sculptural and well-lit. This loo would contribute to the street in its presence and be a pleasure to use.

About this author
Cite: David Basulto. "A public toilet, according to the architects" 17 Aug 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/32344/a-public-toilet-according-to-the-architects> ISSN 0719-8884

You've started following your first account!

Did you know?

You'll now receive updates based on what you follow! Personalize your stream and start following your favorite authors, offices and users.