At Your Convenience: contemporary public-toilet architecture
We'd like to talk to you about a delicate matter. The toilet. The WC. The lavatory. However you choose to refer to it, we all require regular access to this most prosaic of environments. Which is why it's refreshing to see a number of recent public conveniences receive a greater degree of design consideration than has historically been the case. So, sit down, relax and don't forget to flush.
Oslo architectural office Manthey Kula's Roadside Reststop Akkarvikodden in Lofoten, Norway, is designed to defy the Arctic's elements; photo Knut Hjeltnes
They say death is a great leveller. But your everyday, prosaic bodily functions come a close second. Even royalty gets caught short on occasion and has to dart off to the lavatory. London's V&A Museum is just one of the many 19th-century public buildings that had a special toilet constructed for a visiting Queen Victoria. (Save your jokes about royal flushes. We've heard them all before.)
Given that the need for public conveniences isn't one that's going to disappear until evolution finds some other way of disposing of the body's waste products, it's somewhat surprising that the public toilet as a building type hasn't received more and consistent architectural consideration. That said, a number of practices have attempted through bold and innovative forms and materials to create structures with added value – ones which function well as conveniences, but also contribute architecturally to the landscape in which they are situated, be it urban or rural. For them, the loo is anything but a dirty word.
Rusting Corten steel forms the toilet building's windowless structure, which, according to the architects, 'present(s) a pause from the impressions of the surrounding nature, offering an experience of different sensuous qualities'; photos Paul Warchol
The relation between natural surroundings and design intervention in the context of the public toilet is perhaps nowhere as emphatically foregrounded as in Lofoten, Norway. Replacing an existing structure that was lifted from its foundations by the dramatic location's strong Arctic winds, Oslo architectural office Manthey Kula have delivered a project that goes by the rather polite title of 'Roadside Reststop Akkarvikodden'.
If you're looking to spend a penny, you probably couldn't choose a more spectacular site. Lofoten lies north of the Arctic Circle, with the toilet building itself situated next to one of Norway's National Tourist Routes, which runs along a narrow plateau between the mountains and the sea. And yet, perhaps, counter to expectations, the welded-Corten-steel structure is not about the view. Indeed, its lack of windows serve to deprive visitors temporarily of their immediate surroundings.
A skylight is provides natural daylight to Manthey Kula's design, while the Corten steel and internal concrete walls ensure that the building doesn't meet the fate of its predecessor, which was up-ended by strong winds; photo Paul Warchol