New public toilet design reflects a modern city

The Parisian chic public toilets scattered about San Francisco could be refashioned to something a little more à la mode in the near future.

The sleek new design proposed for around two dozen public toilets and more than a hundred kiosks met with a tentatively positive response at a hearing Wednesday. However members of the Arts Commission and Historic Preservation Commission were wary of the potential infrastructure’s impact on the city’s historic districts, where 6 toilets and 34 kiosks are slated for construction.

The design is a drastic departure from the existing green and gold public toilets and kiosks intended to evoke a sense of 1930s Paris. Instead it reflects, literally, San Francisco’s position as the “tech city.”

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Polished steel comprises a gently curved, hour-glass design topped with vegetation for the proposed toilets, while the kiosks may become rounded triangular columns sporting interactive screens.

Initial design requests sought to make the new infrastructure blend into the background, but designers took a different direction.

“Instead of being in the background…we could make them real amenities to the city,” said Beth Rubenstein, a special projects manager for San Francisco Public Works. “Not only amenities in terms of toilets as a part of the program, but also amenities in terms of aesthetics.”

Historic Preservation Commissioner Kate Black said she was tired of seeing “false historicism” at every turn, and welcomed a fresh design true to San Francisco’s new reputation.

Andrew Wolfram, president of the Historic Preservation Commission, was also happy with the designs but he, and other commissioners, requested some changes.

“This is an elegant solution,” he said. “but we would like to see further development with the kiosks.”

Much of the commission pushed back from the proposed triangular design and instead requested rounded kiosks, similar to the existing design. Concerns were also raised over the reflective surface on the toilets. The commission said glare from the toilets could impacting driver safety.

JCDecaux, a multi-national outdoor advertising corporation and San Francisco-based engineering firm SmithGroupJJR said they would together to address each commissions concerns and will return with a updated proposal on Aug. 15.

Under the proposed agreement, JCDecaux would maintain both the toilets and kiosks in exchange for a share of ad revenue garnered from the structures. How much ad revenue JCDecaux will secure is still under negotiation. This follows a similar agreement the corporation had with the city for the current toilets and kiosks, which JCDecaux also designed.

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