Austin’s Trail Restroom is a stylish and functional sculpture

October 20, 2015
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To celebrate World Toilet Day on November 19, PHLUSH is launching a Public Toilet Advocacy Toolkit. Today, we also begin a series of guest blog posts on restroom initiatives. The first in our series is by Kaitlin Krull. She is an Austin, Texas writer who covers design for Modernize. Photos are by Paul Finkel used with permission from Miró Rivera Architects.

Trail Restroom meets universal need with style

The Trail Restroom in Austin, Texas is illustrates how a building can meet a specific need without sacrificing style. at the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail in Austin, Texas is rated as one of the best public restrooms in the world, for both its convenience and its attractive design. But could it be improved?

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A functional sculpture made from 49 steel plates

Situated on the banks of the Colorado River, the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail is one of the premier hiking destinations in Austin and boasts miles of trails at a variety of difficulty levels and elevations. The Trail Restroom in the park was commissioned by the Town Lake Trail Foundation alongside the Austin Parks and Recreation Department and built by Miró Rivera Architects as a functional sculpture and is made from 49 Corten steel plates coiled together, forming the restroom walls. Another steel panel sits on top of the center coil and forms the roof of the toilet area. The steel plates are placed in such a way that their positioning allows light and air in and out without the need for artificial ventilation and lighting unit. The restroom is accessible for disabled users as well and has a drinking fountain and shower area in the outer portion of the coils. After being nominated for and receiving a number of awards, this restroom was named one of the 10 best public toilets in the world in 2014 by Architizer and  Design Curial.

Cautious design requiries minimal upkeep

With stainless steel plumbing and cautious design requiring minimal upkeep, this restroom was designed to lower the maintenance costs of the Lady Bird Lake Park. Because there is no need for artificial lighting and ventilation, the running costs of the restroom are kept at a minimum with basic water, occasional maintenance work, and regular cleaning being the only recurring costs.

The design of the restroom itself seeks to integrate into its surroundings with a natural color scheme and varying height. Furthermore, the materials used in the restroom design are sympathetic to other “Austin-style” structures, including local weathered Corten steel and crushed granite pathways.

Take to the next level with the installation of an eco toilet instead of the plumbed model?

Although it boasts many positive qualities, there are several areas in which the Trail Restroom could benefit from improvements. The primary concern with an open public toilet is safety. Because of the way the restroom is designed, this space is at risk of attracting wild animals and unwanted activity.

Also a vulnerability in the open design of this space is inclement weather, and what happens if and when it rains while the restroom is in use. The gaps and holes in the walls and roof of the toilet allows rain to stream in and could flood the space if drainage becomes clogged with leaves or debris. Finally, the environmental focus of the design team could be taken to the next level with the installation of a composting eco toilet rather than a traditional plumbed model, and the use of local wooden beams in place of steel panels.

These critiques aside, the Trail Restroom provides an attractive, low maintenance, and functional toileting area inside Austin’s Lady Bird Lake Park.

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    Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH) was founded in Portland, Oregon and today collaborates with groups across North America.

    PHLUSH is a member of the World Toilet Organization and a partner in the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.

    Our Mission Through education and advocacy, PHLUSH helps local governments and citizen groups to provide equitable public restroom availability and to prepare for a pipe-breaking seismic event with appropriate ecological toilet systems.

    Our Vision Toilet availability is a human right and well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils.

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