Public Toilets That Put S.F.’s Proposed Redesign To Shame

The San Francisco Arts Commission approved a "minimalist in nature" design for new public toilets.

New designs for San Francisco’s public toilets are here, and the new design somehow manages to make public toilets look less inviting than the 20-year-old ones we have now.

The San Francisco Arts Commission approved new structures for the 25 green and gold, self-cleaning toilets, and 114 advertising kiosks last week, the Chronicle reports. The current Art Noveau toilets, inspired by those in Paris, would be replaced by gray metal boxes, with a blank slate ripe for graffiti.

Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner

But San Francisco is moving past the “days of trying to be Paris,” as Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru told the Chronicle, with the help of French firm JCDecaux.

Darcy Brown of San Francisco Beautiful says that not only are the designs “hideous,” but the lack of imagination and the move into digital advertising is concerning. Sup. Aaron Peskin also tells the Chronicle he’s “less than thrilled.”

Columnist John King concluded that he supported the modern redesign that would no longer have familiarity mask our changing world. But a quick Google search shows that public toilets can be modern, aesthetically pleasing, and high-functioning.

Albin Olsson/Wikimedia Commons

These UriLift toilets in Gothenburg, Sweden pop up and are ideal for areas with bars that don’t have the same demand outside the weekend. According to CityMetric, they’re also used in Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Belgium. 

SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget/Flickr

If San Francisco’s new public bathrooms are going to be bulky, a curved roof like the ones belonging to toilets in Stockholm, Sweden would make a huge aesthetic difference.  JCDecaux could probably add some tech features to this design in the name of modernity.

A Day Magazine/Pinterest

Hiroshima, Japan turned a traditional item like an origami paper crane and gave it a modern look, for people to relieve themselves in. These are seen in different colors around the city, brightening the landscape in a way that also speaks to their country.

It would not be surprising to find out women had no say in this design or implementation, but this stand in Amsterdam, Netherlands certainly allows multiple cis men to urinate at the same time while taking up little space and seems to require little maintenance. By no means could this stand as a replacement across the board, but it could work as a supplement.


Admittedly, the toilets in Matakana, New Zealand probably wouldn’t work well on the streets of San Francisco but the Kiwis sure embraced their identity in providing these. Still, they catch the eye for the right reasons and are inviting.

If the Planning Department’s Historic Preservation Commission approves the design, the Board of Supervisors will have final say on whether to finalize the new bathrooms, and a 20-year contract with JCDecaux. Until then, they have some other options to consider.

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