I’d like to bring attention to an unsung Australian hero. This unlikely champion is there for anyone choosing to spend their weekends driving along the coastline. It’s there for those of us with jobs that require countless hours of driving through sprawling suburbs. It’s there on a Sunday afternoon at a local sports ground or lined up for your convenience in between dance floors at a music festival.
I’m referring to a simple little structure which up until recently has received little credit – the humble toilet block. Since wrought iron urinals were erected on the streets of Melbourne in 18591, the public toilet has developed into a vital part of our modern existence. More than merely a receiver of one of our required rituals, these spaces provide important public amenity to parents, the elderly and people with disabilities. They offer a moment of refuge and respite in our busy lives of ‘doing’ when we can take pause and think.
Their potential in this regard has been known for quite some time – the term privy was once used to describe a king or queen’s confidant who would sit with them while they went about their royal business, adding meaning to the phrase ‘porcelain throne’.
As our urban environment grows denser there is increased pressure on public facilities to provide for their communities. This has resulted in a peculiar phenomenon – ‘the designer dunny’. Sydneysiders may have noticed the sprouting of unusual, intriguing and often pretty little buildings in public parks, along highways or at the end of gravel roads. There was a time when this type of building had seedy associations. It seems, however, that since the 2000 Olympics, when local architects Durbach Block and Jaggers built three toilets for the event, designers and councils have realised their potential. Since then, the chance to design and build a public toilet has become a sought-after milestone for architects trying to establish themselves. It’s one of the few ways for up-and-coming practices to break into the realm of public architecture. Making this jump is not easy, especially when councils require designers to have experience in public buildings before they can offer them the chance.