Sometimes small things make a big difference. Above we see a snapshot of some mundane public amenities at Railroad Park–to the right a drinking fountain and some bike racks; to the left some public restrooms. But look again and you realize something pretty unusual is going on here. Yep, it’s the restrooms–typical of many American cities, Birmingham is pretty much devoid of any public facilities for public relief if one is out on the streets or in a park. So this small gesture to human comfort is actually a big leap forward in our accommodation for people in public spaces.
Other countries are much better about providing this basic human necessity to the urban public. Above is a recent installation of new restrooms in a park in Jinha, China. It’s found on an interesting blog post on public restroom architecture here.
The thought of architects harnessing their talents to affect social good has lost some currency in recent decades, as the academy has become immersed in aesthetics and theory, beaten down by earlier generations’ aspirations to change the world (i.e. vast, inhuman urban “renewal” plans; housing “projects”, and the like). A show up at MOMA in New York City presents a refreshing set of new design projects that reject “high aesthetics”, and instead service real needs, typically of very poor populations around the world. It sounds like it’s worth a trip if anyone’s in New York soon. It runs through Jan. 9 and you can find a great review of it in the New York Times here. It’s called “Small scale, big change”. In a way, those 2 restrooms at Railroad Park, with their humble boxcar design, make the same point about form following function right here at home. For those who can’t travel up to the show, below is a pic of visitors enjoying the exhibit.