Pissoir Artists

The Vancouver-based firm Matthew Soules Architect (MSA) recently received a rather unusual design brief: to help the nearby city of Victoria, British Columbia, resolve its, uh, “public urination problems” (the city’s words). Unfazed, MSA took a research-driven approach to this civic nuisance, looking at historical precedents (the pissoir, popular in 19th-century Europe and still in use in Paris and Amsterdam); current trends in public-restroom design (Vancouver has some of those automated, self-cleaning public toilets–which are frequently out of service); and the texture of the city’s built environment.

From the latter, the firm seized on a ubiquitous piece of urban infrastructure: the humble steel pipe used to support stop signs, parking notices, and the like. For their 21st-century pissoir, MSA welded 165 standard off-the-shelf steel pipes into three segments and bolted them together to form a spiral-shaped enclosure, which then was placed on a simple concrete base.


Not only are the steel pipes a familiar element of Victoria’s downtown, but they’re inexpensive, extremely durable, and unattractive to potential vandals (the textured surface is ill-suited to graffiti.)

Exploded Victoria-Urinal_Plan-Sectio

An exploded diagram, section, and plan of MSA’s public urinal. (Click to view larger images.)

“The overall configuration and shape of the urinal structure is defined entirely by performance criteria,” the firm writes in a press release.

To fit into numerous public locations where space is a premium, it needs to be as compact as possible—hence the circular plan. To make it simple and highly durable we avoided moving parts that always seem to break in high-use public settings—hence the ‘ying-yang’ entry that allows privacy without a closing door. To make it highly usable it needs to balance privacy with transparency; privacy so people feel comfortable using it and transparency for safety and resistance to unwanted activities—hence the undulating wave of the screen to give visibility at foot level and the alternate pipe length to offer visibility at eye level.

The result is a great example of how smart design can improve even the humblest and most low-budget municipal projects.

Victoria-Public-Urinal4_Images: courtesy Matthew Soules Architecture Inc.

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