Austin’s got its problems, sure, but one thing this city’s crushing is public restroom design. We take this topic very seriously, not only due to an appreciation of good architecture but because we often use these facilities ourselves, and we believe their existence is critical for safe, equitable urban life. Let’s round up the best of ’em:
Festival Beach Restroom
Our latest shining example of public restroom design excellence opened at East Austin’s Edward Rendon Sr. Metro Park at Festival Beach without too much fanfare back in June — you can blame the coronavirus for that, since otherwise we would have been out there testing it out ourselves. Like three of the design-minded public restrooms on our list, this new loo arrives courtesy of the Trail Foundation, one of the organization’s 15 planned improvements in honor of its 15th anniversary.
Featuring an eye-catching tile roof meant to evoke the terracotta of the old restroom it replaced, this update by local firm Jobe Corral Architects is technically the first small step of the Holly Shores Master Plan — we hope to see more progress at this fabulous expanse of parkland soon, helped along by world-class public facilities, of course!
Miró Rivera Trail Restroom
The Trail Foundation and local architecure firm Miró Rivera cooked up the first of the Foundation’s four public restroom facilities back in 2007, adjacent to the Hike-and-Bike Trail in the Rainey Street District on the tract of parkland at the corner of Cummings Street and East Avenue now slated for the Rainey Street Trailhead project — also by the Trail Foundation. This facility, fashioned from beautifully rusted weathering steel and the recipient of a laundry list of design awards, is perhaps the most memorable project on our list — but there is competition!
Johnson Creek Restroom
The Trail Foundation’s second restroom at Johnson Creek by local architects Studio 8 celebrated its “First Flush” in 2013, located along the stretch of trail passing beneath the Mopac Expressway bridge over Lady Bird Lake.
Designed graciously pro bono by Studio 8 Architects, the restroom is constructed of steel and artisanal concrete created by small, tightly spaced boards to create an organic layering while maintaining a monolithic appearance, much like the exposed limestone along the creek bed.
— The Trail Foundation
Heron Creek Restroom
Until the opening of its new facility last month at Festival Beach, the last architecturally inspired restroom project by the Trail Foundation opened in 2015 at the trail-adjacent parkland known as Lamar Beach on the north shores of Lady Bird Lake. The Heron Creek Restroom, a striking pair of monolithic figures designed with concrete and weathering steel by local firm Mell Lawrence Architects, creates what the architect high-mindedly pictures as a sort of cathedral-like space:
Inside the space, users are treated to the mutable experience of light and shadow created by the roof geometry. The shell covers the plumbing fixtures but is otherwise open, revealing views up to the sky and diagonally out to the other form. A hackberry limb poetically invades the interior of the western restroom. In fact, the whole shell was designed to catch light in different ways. Looking across, one sees a mix of full and partial shadows, and in the morning, a pleasing shock of direct sunlight spikes through the space.
The drama of the tall walls, the mix of ethereal and earthy materials, and the celestial views out the roofs conspire to call cathedrals to mind, and additional touches reinforce this thought: the cross-shaped latch, the thick walls reminiscent of a tomb, and the reverence for light. Lawrence recalls that an early version of the design called for the ceiling to be a “syrupy ecclesiastical blue, like the Virgin Mary should be in there.” As cathedrals do, these restrooms inspire calm through their majesty and their materiality.
Auditorium Shores Restroom
We’re not sure of the architects behind the restroom facility at Auditorium Shores within the Butler Metro Park area on the south shores of Lady Bird Lake, but despite its less striking and more subtle design we’d swear up and down that its arched corrugated metal roof is intended to reference the Austin City Coliseum, a Quonset hut-style building that once stood nearby on these grounds and hosted a wide variety of concerts and other events. Can anyone confirm this?
Downtown Public Restrooms
Planned since at least 2016, a number of permanent public restroom facilities are completed or planned around downtown Austin — two are done so far, with a third presumably on the way. These facilities aren’t meant to be unique — each uses the “Portland Loo” design pioneered in the titular city and imported to Austin’s fair shores — and even if they aren’t quite as memorable as our beloved trail restrooms, they probably help a lot more people.
In the end, the way these facilities look is just a bonus — it’s building them at all that really counts. We’re more than happy to lean into our reputation as public restroom aficianados and keep you up to date on every last one.