Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Art of Restrooms

Sochi Olympic Village restroom (2014)
No, this entry is not about restroom decorations, but more about the design and aesthetics of these essential establishments. I have been moved to write about this today, because as a traveller who tends to indulge in extended journeys, keeping an eye open for public restrooms comes with the territory.

The double ensemble of toilet bowls in the image above have become somewhat famous (or should that be infamous?), because they, and others like them, are located in the new Olympic Village in Sochi, where the 2014 Winter Olympic Games are currently under way. As you can imagine, they have become the focus of much mirth and comment, with social networks across the Internet reposting photographs of the restrooms, with additional comments and criticism to suit.

However, Sochi is not the only location where these shared restrooms can be found. During my 2010 visit to New York City, I was forced to use the public restrooms in Washington Square Park, in the heart of Greenwich Village (as can be seen in the photograph below), which  shows three of at least four bowls in the male restroom. I assume a similar line up of waste receptacles were to be found in the female restrooms, but I thought it wise not to check for myself.

Washington Square Park male restroom (2010)
As I wrote on this blog way back in July, 2010, “…to say I was surprised to see such an open public display of Thomas Crapper’s toilet bowls would be a gross understatement! Especially since Washington Square Park is probably one of New York’s most popular parks.”

Hopefully, the restrooms in Washington Square have been updated since my 2010 visit, but maybe they haven’t. If any reader can shed some light on the matter, please do so via the Comments section below. Still, I suppose one should be grateful that even these shared facilities were available, although that old adage; “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” comes to mind as I write this.

In the 1899 second revised edition of Baedeker’s travel guide to the United States, one finds this: “Public conveniences are not usually provided in American cities, but their place is practically supplied by the lavatories of hotels, to which passers-by resort freely. Accommodation is also furnished at railway stations. Such public conveniences as do exist in New York and other large cities are disgracefully inadequate in number, size, and equipment.”

Today, of course, if it wasn’t for the numerous Starbucks outlets, fast food franchises, and similar establishments open to the general public, New York City in particular, and other cities across America would be awash in waste of the worst type. It seems that public restrooms are amongst the last things city planners consider when it comes to caring for their own citizens, let alone the millions of travellers who criss-cross the continent each year.

Some things, it seems, never change.

Oh, and one last thing, at least the shared toilets in Sochi supplied some toilet paper, which was more than the loo I had to use in Washington Square Park in 2010 did. Since then, I always make sure I have some spare tissues with me, just in case I am caught short on the road somewhere.

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