Futuristic public toilet in London

Today in my ongoing series of photos from my travels over the years, this shot of a Star Wars-esque coin-op toilet in the Clerkenwell Road near my office in London. Love the Comic Sans! Link


  1. I’m from longone, I mean London, and these toilets are real crap (pun intentional). They smell like it’s been there since the Ice age and the doors either don’t open, or if they open, they don’t shut and if they do shut, there’ll be a gap so you’ll be showing your happy bits and pieces to the passing world outside. Of course judging by the brands of bottles and cans in there, I can tell just what sort of people use it so the door problem ain’t going to be a problem. For a serious loadda crapper, you should check this out: http://theworldofm.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/a-very-costly-doo-doo/

    Boing boing admin: if we’re not allowed to put up links like that, please let me know. I wasn’t sure where you stand on this so please accept my apologies if I broke the rules.

  2. Second the notion it’s not Comic Sans. The “t” looks too much like a Christian cross, and it has too much character to it; it looks more like “Village” (The Prisoner font), but that’s serifed so its not.

    These are new? I saw similar ones in France years ago-(God, like twenty…shit, I’m old). I cleverly figured I’d cheat the machines and let one of my fellow-travelers enter as I left.

    I got to poo, and he entered right when it started its self-cleaning cycle.

    So, I got my money’s worth at least.

    Second poster–does your comment mean the self-cleaning thing doesn’t work anymore? Pity, as that actually made paying to go potty worth the money. Why pay if it stinks worse than a blind alley?

  3. Yes, not to nitpick, but it is not comic sans. In fact, it’s much more attractive than comic sans. The two things that are most apparent are in the o and the e. The o in comic sans is assymetrical in that it is a bit more round on the left side and the center stroke in the e is tilted upward to the right. I’m sure there’s someone who knows the terminology better than myself, as I’m just a type fan, not a professional.

  4. Regardless of whether or not its comic sans, that looks like the exact make and model of the public crappers here in San Francisco, ‘cept ours are an uglier color!

  5. Definitely not Comic Sans, but nor do I see any resemblance to the “Village” font, as someone else suggested. The Prisoner used Albertus, or something extremely like it.

  6. I’m not disabled, but I am drawn to the disabled sticker on the toilet door.

    I think there is a good chance this one has been taken out of general service and is for disabled use. If so, then it may be like public toilets down here (in oz), where if you are wheelchair bound, or have a recognized condition such as eg a colostomy sack, or major bowel surgery, they give you a key which opens disabled toilets so you can handle your problem in at least some privacy and decency.

    When these loos came onstream in the 70s, they were indeed deployed as coin-op public toilets after the french got ’em first. They made “nationwide” and other 7pm newsadvertorial programmes, “tomorrows world” and the like, becauswe they were mechanistically self-cleaning and everyone wanted to know how they did it if you didn’t get out in time.

    A truly wonderful book to hunt for is “the good loo guide” By Jonathan Routh which pre-dates these machines but does discuss the pissoir, and other finer elements of toilet-dom. It also introduced the fine witticism “vertigo in london” being the princple question any non-english speaker asks a bobby..

  7. There’s one of these on Bethnal Green Road at the junction with Rivington Street that has been there since the mid-90s. What is interesting (well, sort of) is that it replaced a Victorian underground loo of the same type that was sold off on Commercial St (opposite Spitalfields) and is now a nightclub, and on Whitechapel High Street, which is now an Indian cafe, whose surface decor looks like a larger version of the autoloo. They are horrible things though, and have a life of about 10 years maximum before they become unusable through wear and tear. They’ve all been there for about 12 years now.

  8. as mentioned, there are these all over paris. they’re now free, but still smell despite the self cleaning.

    for those nostalgic about the old urinals, there’s one left on Boulevard Arago in the 14th, in front of the prison de la santé

  9. they phased these out in Helsinki a few years back. i’ve heard several tales of freeloaders being trapped in the auto-clean mode.

  10. they are free to try and keep people from pissing all over the place. I suppose I miss the reall pissoire, the S shaped iron thing that served 2 men – in the groves – just built on a grate over a sewer. Damn, this city really smells sometimes.

  11. Blimey! This is right across the road from my old office (that’s it over on the left on the other side of the road and the good people at Ben Sherman are hiding behind the lav) if I’d known this crapper was futuristic I coulda had you years ahead of the curve! To me it just looks like an overweight and depressed Pez dispenser but then I guess it takes a newcomer to see the oddness in the everyday.

    We’ve moved now; Clerkenwell is soo over ;)

  12. You see some of them here in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Never tried them, I’m too afraid to test them. ;-)

  13. These toilets are at least 10 years old: they are French designed. They should be called tramp resting stations. Awful smelly things.

  14. I used one in Paris once – waited in line to use it, actually…

    The self-cleaning cycle appeared to be done with steam. Believe it or not it was sparkly-clean when I took my turn in spite of the fact that a half-dozen people went before me – each followed by a blast of steam.

    My recollection is that it wasn’t free but I’m unsure.

  15. Horrible things. We were forced to use one in Cannes a few years ago when propriety wouldn’t allow us to steal a restaurant’s. The door malfunctioned during my wife’s poo and tried to open and let the entire film festival have a peek. Not to mention the violent cleaning cycle that, from the outside, gives you the impression that it would kill you should you be stuck inside during it.

  16. It’s definitely the JC Decaux toilet, with its fugly retro-futuristic design.

    JC Decaux is huge indeed. It’s the world’s second largest outdoor advertising corporation, after Clear Channel, and the n°1 for street furniture. Last year, they teamed with Paris municipality to deploy a fleet of city bikes.

  17. These were called ‘Superloos’ when they were first installed in the UK in the late 80s/early 90s.

    My brother once forced one open to rescue a kid who’d been trapped inside during the cleaning cycle.

    Apparently the trigger for cleaning is that the weight pressing on the floor is below a certain threshold (as would be the case if no-one was inside), so users below this weight cannot prevent it from starting the cycle!

  18. I’ve used the one in Twin Peaks about 4 years ago I think, and I don’t recall it smelling badly. In fact I think I was very impressed by the self-cleaning, like “I wish my bathroom could do that”. I say, we need more self-cleaning things.

  19. You’ll find dark green versions around some of the more touristy areas of San Francisco and up and down Market St.

    I wouldn’t use one but then again I know enough places where I don’t have to pay to pee in this city that I don’t need to.

  20. I recall using one of these in either NYC or San Francisco. I don’t recall any problems, but these units seem to generate controversy where ever they’re installed or proposed because of the vandalism and misuse problem.

    The real solution:

    Old-style public restrooms, updated to be handicapped accessible and easier to clean, with an attendant to handle security and cleaning. You could put a community policing booth between the womens’ and gents’ wings. Yeah, it would cost money, but your city would be cleaner and more attractive to pedestrians.

    Or why not bow to the inevitable and let companies introduce coin-operated privacy booths? No sanitary plumbing, just a dimly lit, self-cleaning place where junkies can shoot up and johns can get serviced. Then the pressure would be taken off of public toilets.

  21. that’s no toilet, it’s Dr. Poo’s Retardis. as for the font, it’s not comic sans, it’s not even ariel rounded.

  22. I wonder where you go to get the free access Radar Key for them? There was/is one of these just off the mont blanc bridge in Geneva, it looks different, but same principles.

  23. I last lived in London in 1988, and there were at least a few of these around then. I remember being quite intrigued by them, as an 11-year-old.

    I think there was/is some kind of timer (5, 10 minutes?) on them to keep them from being used by junkies/prostitutes, and then the door would open no matter what.

    Back then, they were at least clean and shiny, so if they’re stinky now it may have something to do with poor maintenance, or the inexorable decline of any public restroom. Perhaps the design wasn’t so bad.

  24. @Airshowfan: The one up on Twin Peaks stays nice because bums & crackheads can’t walk that far uphill. The ones in more low-lying areas of the city tend to be pretty bad. I’m not sure they even have a self-cleaning feature — if they do it ain’t working.

  25. The toilets at the Powell Street BART and Civic Center, San Francisco are often out of service. When I do manage to enter, I find the floor covered with newspaper, the toilet bowl clogged, one time with socks. I have found syringes in the toilets as well. The 20-minute limit is excessive, 10 minutes is plenty.

  26. Does anyone know if there’s an equivalent for showers? It would really solve the ‘I can’t cycle to work because they don’t have any showers’ problem.

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