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Are these the best public restrooms in the US?

Courtesy of Cintas
Gotta go.
  • Anne Quito
By Anne Quito

Design and architecture reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Public restrooms in the United States have come a long way. Once humble colonial pit latrines and communal benches, American public toilets have evolved into potpourried petite palaces with ceramic thrones, automated seat cleaners, and ultra-strong hand dryers. Now, for the 14th year, we even have an “America’s Best Restroom Contest” to spotlight the crème de la crème of public toilets.

The 2015 winner in the Cintas Corporation-sponsored competition turns out to be a pair of outdoor restrooms in the Colorado mining town of Minturn (population 1,029). According to the town’s website, the toilets were designed to resemble “a passageway into a Rocky Mountain mine.”

Chosen from among 50 entries through an online vote, Minturn’s copper-colored public potty with undulating accent walls is the product of a group push from the local planning commission, council, public works department, carpenters,  concrete workers, steel artists and plumbers. An interior wall is decorated with a small stencil of trees, and on the ceiling is an installation of fake butterflies.

Toilet cred: Putting the little Town of Minturn on the map.

Cinta’s open call toilet competition is more a marketing tactic for the Ohio-based professional services company’s janitorial services division than a serious consideration of architectural or engineering innovations for public spaces. (The grand prize is $2,500 worth of toilet cleaning supplies and finalists are offered a ”deep clean” of their facility.)

But the contest does bring to light the importance of public facilities in businesses operations, as well as highlighting the potential (or need) for well-planned public amenities to curb water and energy waste. And the results of the people’s poll too, where thousands participated online, serves up a fascinating look into the American public’s design sensibility. Judging by the winners, gaudy and gimmicky prevail.

The competition’s second place winner went to a set of toilets at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The colossal barrel johns of Charleston Distilling in Charleston, South Carolina won third.

Charleston Distilling/Cintas
Bathrooms in a barrel.

It’s not necessarily just about eye-catching design, says Cintas. Standout, “creative” toilets mean good business.

“Cintas holds the contest to stress that a clean, creative restroom is important to the overall success of the business,” says the competition’s survey editor, Danny Rubin to Quartz. “If the restroom is in top form, people remember it and think more highly of the establishment.”

In a town like Minturn, he says, good toilets serve as “place branding”. Janet Hawkinson, the restroom’s director of design and project management seems to concur, suggesting in a press release that Minturn’s toilet has become a local tourist attraction.

Perhaps that’s why so many other finalists seem bent on offering the American public elaborate, theme-park-style toilet experiences. Only a few, sadly, seem focused on the restroom’s primary function: offering a serene spot to do one’s private business.

Perry Lake, Marion, Alabama
Strataca aka the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, Hutchinson, Kansas

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