Friday, January 11, 2008
New York City's $100,000 Toilet
Indeed, the toilet calls to mind not a port-o-let, but rather the sort of room one imagines adjoined the personal quarters of Capt. James T. Kirk on the Starship Enterprise. It is a 25-cent journey to the future — and, almost secondarily, a not unpleasant restroom.
The restroom was unveiled on Thursday, the first of 20 planned for the city after more than 30 years of false starts and frustrations. It faces Madison Avenue just north of 23rd Street, and at first glance looks like a bus stop shelter.
There are two architectural flourishes, both on the roof: a small pyramid of glass, like a little model of the Louvre, and an anachronistic metal stovepipe, reminiscent of a cozy shanty or an old outhouse with a crescent moon carved into the door.
But no one goes to a bathroom to look at it. When the green light marked “vacant” is lit, 25 cents — coins only, no bills — starts the visit.
What follows is possibly the longest and most awkward 20 to 30 seconds of a person’s day. The door slips open like an elevator, but then it stays open, to accommodate those who need extra time getting in. Meanwhile, men and women in suits walk past. It is very difficult to look inconspicuous in a bathroom on a sidewalk in New York with the door open. There is just nothing to do but stand there. And the delay will not please those who are in distress.
Finally, the door closes, and the first surprise is the quiet. The walls are padded to dampen street noise, leaving just the hum of a little fan overhead.
Six little lights and the skylight in the pyramid cast a neutral glow over the user’s home for the next 15 minutes, the maximum time limit.
This toilet, which cost more than $100,000, is very spacious, large enough to accommodate a wheelchair. One cannot touch the side walls with arms outstretched.
Greetings, Earthlings. Your New Restroom Is Ready.