Vancouver architect proud of his public pissoir
Douglas Quan , ctvbc.ca
Published Saturday, September 5, 2009 4:05PM PDT
They came to him to design a little, outdoor potty house and he built them a pissoir.
The City of Victoria, besieged with complaints from downtown business owners about public urination, went to Vancouver architect Matthew Soules earlier this year to design a public urinal.
The result was unveiled this week on the corner of Government and Pandora streets, about a block from City Hall: a free, open-air-but-private urinal modeled after public washroom facilities found in 19th century Paris.
"There's no similar thing like it, certainly not in North America," Soules told ctvbc.ca in an interview Saturday.
Victoria city officials are clearly relieved that late night bar hoppers now have an option for, well, relieving themselves.
"I am pleased that this project was delivered on time, and will be ready for the return of college and university students this fall," Mayor Dean Fortin said in a press release issued by the city on Friday. "The city is constantly looking at new ways to improve our downtown experience, and this is just one more way."
As for Soules, who normally designs retail and office spaces, it wasn't the most glamorous project to land on his desk.
But he jumped at the chance to take on a new design challenge.
"It sounds so prosaic and messy and people initially are like 'Oh, that's a bad and boring project to work on,' but then you start having a conversation about everything it entails, and I think people get fascinated."
He and his co-workers researched public washroom facilities around the globe: Paris, Amsterdam, New York, Seattle.
Soules even tested out the handful of high-tech, self-cleaning toilets scattered throughout Vancouver. He found that most of the time, they didn't even work.
"They're great in theory but research showed they break down over time," he said. They're also expensive to install and maintain.
Which is why Soules opted to go with a simpler, lower-maintenance public urinal.
The urinal is surrounded by about 150 vertical steel green pipes that have been welded together in a curvy design that is meant to evoke the arches in Victoria's historic buildings, Soules said.
The pipes are spaced apart just enough to let an outsider know if the urinal is being used but still maintain privacy for the user.
Soules said the city sought a urinal over a toilet to target all the men who crawled out of nearby bars and urinated on sidewalks and alleyways.
However, the urinal does come equipped with handlebars if women want to use it, too.
The urinal also features low-flow technology and low voltage interior LED lighting for use at night.
Asked whether it was hard to refrain from potty jokes over the course of the project, Soules said it wasn't.
"Not really," he said. "I'm a nerdy, serious architect."