Toilet pod hits spot in historic area

Keeping everyone happy was a balancing act, writes Stephen Crafti.

Keeping everyone happy was a balancing act, writes Stephen Crafti.

Designing a public toilet block isn't high on many architects' wish-lists. It's not comparable to a house or apartment tower. But some of the smallest architectural commissions can make an enormous difference to a community. This modest development in Bendigo is one example.

The city needed to provide a safe and protected environment for young people leaving nightclubs in the early hours. With clubbers departing in various states of sobriety, there were often scuffles when trying to catch a taxi. And limited public transport, with up to 250 people seeking to get home, led to mounting tension.

Three potential sites were earmarked for public amenities, located far enough away from the historic centre with its heritage buildings.

"We were asked to review the sites put forward [by consultants]. There was general concern that amenities near heritage buildings would degrade the centre. But we thought Howard Place, adjacent to some of the nightclubs, seemed an appropriate location. Even a 600-metre walk to a taxi rank can seem a long way after a few drinks," says architect Peter Williams, a director of Williams Boag architects (WBa).

WBa came up with a relatively transparent structure, with a 200-square-metre multi-celled polycarbonate roof sheltering the pod-like elliptical toilet block. Laminated timber beams supported by steel, allow the roof to "float". To enhance this floating, the amenities are separated from the roof.

Made of concrete, stained yellow and circled by polished stainless steel tubes, the pod is sculptural and functional. As it's slightly elevated above ground level, there's privacy, while still showing foot traffic within.

"We were extremely conscious of the heritage buildings framing this important triangular site. But we have elevated the roof to ensure vistas of the monument to gold and the heritage-listed glasshouse in Rosalind Park, Williams says.

One of the other elements that needed considering was a means for people to queue in an orderly way for taxis. Roping off areas might have created tension, with some trying to jump the queue. WBa's approach was to create a forecourt under the roof with a subtle line drawn in the concrete and pebbled ground surface.

Rather than rope, ground lights set up a queue. And even if the wait is considerable, there are concrete and timber benches along the path. Even little things, such as the correct-sized rubbish bins, capable of holding pizza containers, minimise waste left behind.

One of the greatest challenges facing the architects was obtaining approval from Heritage Victoria and the local authorities, concerned heritage would be undermined by a project of this nature. But to their credit, the parties agreed something as basic as a toilet block could be in the centre of town. The Salvation Army also uses the area for its "chill out" vans on Saturday night.

The facilities have been embraced by the community, even restaurants and cafes bordering the site, which initially feared a downgrade.

The development is popular with tourists and local walking groups, who see the facilities as both a marking point and starting point to their day. And rather than only being used by those traipsing out of nightclubs, the Howard Place amenities are used day and night.

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