Back to Projects

Public Toilets for Berlin

Region

Europe and Northern America

Date

2017

Service

Project Details

Location

  • Berlin (Germany)

Type

  • Commission

Client

  • Senatsverwaltung für Mobilität, Verkehr, Klimaschutz und Umwelt

Partners

Surface

89100ha

Why

At first glance, a public toilets strategy may not appear a natural fit for an office working on large-scale urban projects: "Toilets? That's not what we do." However, what followed was a shift in perspective.

Public toilets are not merely functional amenities, but integral to how people use cities—dovetailing perfectly with TSPA’s conviction that cities have the responsibility to ensure access for all.

Public Toilet Strategy

In this detailed participation process, TSPA evaluated existing locations and identified new locations, equipment characteristics defined, and potential cooperation partners suggested.

New toilets sites in Berlin have been formulated with requirements for safety, equipment and environmental friendliness, hygiene, and maintenance. Our strategy foresees three supply scenarios: 257 public toilets to be built in the context of the basic provision (2019 to 2020). Depending on financial circumstances, 366 locations will be targeted for improved supply (implementation 2021 to 2022).

After evaluation, an extended coverage option will be considered, with 447 sites. This extended supply should not be tackled by 2024 at the earliest.

Dimensions of Public Toilet Planning

Inclusion - for all users

City governments bear responsibility for ensuring access to all. But what does it truly mean to design for all users?

People can have different umwelten, even though they share the same environment. Because of this, the diversity of designers and active stakeholder engagement is indispensable to inclusive design. Urban planners must not only design for the umwelten we directly encounter but also to those we do not.

Here’s an example: did you know that many pensioners in Berlin plan their Saturday grocery trips based on access to public toilets? Well that’s something we learnt, and incorporated into our GIS layers.

Oftentimes, vulnerable groups are clumped together. But when designing for inclusion it is crucial to recognise that vulnerable groups, although housed under an umbrella-term, do in fact have different valid needs. And that these needs can conflict with one another.

Here’s an example: the family association advocated for incorporating infant changing tables into the interior design of the public toilets. But the disabilities association pointed out that, when left in a horizontal position, these obstruct the manoeuvrability of wheelchair users.

These nuanced interactions serve as a testament to the complexity of designing spaces that cater to the needs of all. The responsibility of the city, therefore, lies not only in acknowledging these complexities but in navigating them with a commitment to providing equitable access.

Cost-effectiveness

Cost-effectiveness hinges on an balance among provision commitment (quantity of public toilets), costs of design and construction, and maintenance expenses. Notably, maintenance takes the crown in terms of cost consideration.

Provision is influenced by a range of factors and actors: interest groups, legal mandates, and municipal financial considerations.

Although construction costs pale in significance over the lifetime of a public toilet—about 20 years—they share an intricate connection with maintenance costs because of design and material choices. Over time, various components may need repair or replacement. Also, since toilets demand cleanliness, and routine cleaning protocols.

Public toilet inauguration

Design quality and aesthetics

Public toilets are public infrastructure, so they have to integrate into the city, harmonising with historic districts, tourist destinations, and transit hubs alike. However, integration should not render them unrecognisable. Public toilets must strike a balance - embodying aesthetic transcendence, while remaining distinctly identifiable.

Let’s think about the inside of public toilets. Inclusive design is paramount here, given the diverse public they serve. Herein inclusivity comes through design decisions such as high-contrast surfaces, surface heights, and sufficient space for the 3-point turn execution of a wheelchair.

There is another glaring design consideration for public toilets: safety.

Safety

Safety is not only about averting accidents and injuries, but also notions of perceived risk.

Safety and perceptions of safety are culturally dictated. In the case of Berlin: illuminated spaces and mirrored surfaces, strategically positioned near entrances, emerged as pivotal concerns for stakeholders.

Here’s a situational example: picture a public toilet at the periphery of a park. Should the door face the lively street that skirts the park's edge, or should it face the park itself? You’ll notice that, in Berlin, public toilets located near or in parks, always have the door facing toward areas of foot/non- and motorised traffic.

In Berlin, some public toilets are equipped with external urinals. The design provides visual privacy and weather protection, but these urinals conspicuously lack doors; these facilities, come without a fee. However, public toilets featuring a toilet bowl and sink, have doors, albeit at a fee. A bias toward those of us who stand while urinating. Not only in terms of provision, but also in terms of individual costs incurred.

We presented a gender-inclusive urinal design options to engage stakeholders. However, it became increasingly evident that doors were important for safety. Doors, particularly for those of us who must completely and/or partially undress while using the facilities, are very important.

Hygiene

The importance of hygienic public toilets can’t be overstated. It is a key criteria in the operating concept of public toilets, transforming them into valuable assets for the city.

Much like other public infrastructure standards, cleanliness impacts usage and maintenance. Public toilets: no exception. Berlin City insisted on automatic self-cleaning toilets. This serves the propose of streamlining maintenance operations, while ensuring controlled and accountable consumption of water and electricity.

Communication

It's not enough to merely provide facilities; the public must be aware of their existence and perceive them positively. Creating a dialogue around public toilets is vital. It's about more than just infrastructure; it's about enhancing the urban experience and ensuring equitable access.

The City of Berlin took on the role of communications through its marketing department.

Environmental responsiveness

The act of saving water and energy extends beyond mere operational efficiency; it embodies environmental and climate responsibility. Public toilets, as indispensable amenities, should mirror this approach.

Public Toilet Scenarios

We began our GIS work by mapping existing toilet locations, this involved verification and cleaning of available data. Existing toilet facilities, whether public or within spaces like restaurants and shopping malls, were factored in, and data was weighted to account for operating hours.

With a clean baseline, the focus shifted to identifying demand-generating locations such as tourist attractions, parks, entertainment spaces, public transit hubs, and playgrounds.

To refine the process, Berlin district and interest groups’ recommendations were incorporated into the data. After, we generated a radius range layer (distance in meters) from each demand generator to a potential toilet site.

This process produces a priority map, guiding decisions on where to build new toilets. It also raises the possibility of shuttering underused facilities in favour of relocating them to areas of greater need.

What we walk away with

We used digital data-driven methodologies as more than just tools for analysis; we transformed them into communication instruments. Community input, validated through participatory processes, added depth and legitimacy to empirical findings. It was an eye-opening experience, to observe how neighbourhood associations' preferences often aligned seamlessly with the GIS-driven analysis.

Data-driven analysis and robust stakeholder and citizen engagement are oftentimes decoupled processes. However, in the case of Berlin Public Toilets, the dynamic interplay between these is what we, at TSPA, walk away with as a now integral part of our office’s methodology.