Allan Takes Aim Blog

Toilet art helps tourists spend a penny

Posted on: 27 April 2010

Firts published in The Chronicle, Tuesday 14 April 2010

Two things brought toilets to my attention: a letter in The Chronicle from a Mr Grant complaining about lack of a public toilet in Campbell, an issue he followed up on Friday, April 9 as he chivvied Chief Minister Jon Stanhope about it on ABC 666 talk back. Then I heard a brief discussion about toilet on By Design, Radio National, Saturday Morning April 10.

With toilets having captured my attention, I decided to research the subject. The research threw up many surprises. For example I learned that Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet. That honour goes to scientists from the Indus Basin who invented and used flush toilets and sewage systems in 2,500 BC. I also found that the Minoans and Romans had flush toilets and sewage systems. However, when the Roman Empire collapsed the technology was lost.

Happily for us, in the twelfth century AD, Al-Jaziri, an Arab polymath who worked at the Mesopotamian Royal Court, re-invented the flush toilet. But not only was Al-Jaziri responsible for reinventing the flush toilet, his mechanical inventions were so many – some are still in use today – that rightfully he is called: Father of Mechanical Engineering. I think too, that the West also owes Al–Jaziri an enormous debt of gratitude: had it not been for him “beware of global smelling” might well be the great shibboleth of today.

Despite its benefits it took some time before the flush toilet became common again in the West. And while the style of toilets has changed since the days of Al-Jaziri, anecdotal stories of some present toilets evoke echoes of the twelfth century.

Although toilet today also describes a human function and the means of its disposal, in Roman times, the room that some people think the most important in the house was not called toilet but lavatory. Eventually, however, as society became more refined (?), lavatory was superseded by toilet, although a minority of people still prefer the Latin term. I have no intention of opining on which word you should use: that’s a decision you must make for yourself.

However, the relief felt by communities when public toilets were introduced was immense. Unfortunately that relief was diminished when public toilets gained a reputation as hubs where activity, but not that for which the toilets were intended, were practiced. I have no intention of offering an opinion about this either.

That said let me return to Mr Grant’s chivvying of the Chief Minister. Although I didn’t hear their conversation I am assured that, during it, the Chief Minister told Mr Grant that he was impressed by the quality of New Zealand’s public toilets. In support of the Chief Minister, I have to say my research of New Zealand public toilets impressed me also if only because they looked better than when I lived in New Zealand.

During my research I also came across a particularly impressive public toilet in the small township of Kawakawa in New Zealand’s North Island. Designed by famous Viennese painter and architect, Frederick Hundertwasser, this toilet with its grass roof, ceramic tiles, bottle glass windows, mosaic tiling, copper handwork, cobblestone flooring, individual sculptures and a living tree integrated into the design structure, is a work of art.

Following Hundertwasser’s death in 2000, not only has the Kawakawa toilet, his last major project and only structure in the Southern Hemisphere become a mecca for his followers worldwide, it has also boosted Kawakawa’s tourist numbers.

And so, with that in mind I’d like to suggest to the Chief Minister that he launch a public toilet design competition not only for a Campbell toilet but also for other suburbs that want a public toilet or want their current public toilet redesigned and/or rebuilt.

If you think I’m kidding I’m not. If thousands of tourists visit Kawakawa just to look at its public toilet, it seems to me that if Canberra’s newly designed public toilets were placed next to some of our recent public art, tourists would come to Canberra in droves, spend a penny, then depart to tell their friends that Canberra has the world’s best public toilets and the world’s best public art gallery.

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13 Responses to "Toilet art helps tourists spend a penny"

Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
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Many thanks for the comment. I’d also be pleased if you could pass on details of the blog to your friends. And if you’ve got something that you think worth publishing send it to me.

Regards, Don Allan

I liked your article is an interesting technology
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If you send me what you want to post I’ll see what I can do. Send the post in straight text -not an attachment. Regards Don

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Unfortunately I have neither the equipnent nor the cash nor he technical ability to do as you suggest. Sorry to disappoint you but my only skill, and that’s limited I’m afraid, is tp draw word pictures. Regards, Don

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