Trail Restroom

An assemblage of 49 Corten steel plates arrayed in a coil-like shape, Miró Rivera Architects’ Trail Restroom is a captivating work of brutal simplicity.

The architects have made something extraordinary from what otherwise was ordinary. They went beyond the programmatic needs of a maintenancefree and ADA-compliant structure (required to contain 70 sq. ft. of enclosed public restroom, an exterior shower station, and a drinking fountain with an attached pet fountain) by creating a project that directly displays the beauty imbued in raw materials and showcases an evocative use of natural light.

Located along the north shore of Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake), the restroom is the result of a long-standing partnership between the non-profit Trail Foundation and the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department. With the entire A/E team donating their services, the construction process exemplified the unique nature of the project. The architects printed a full-sized plan and laid it out themselves on the site. The steel fabricator then erected all 49 panels in one day.

The naturally weathered, ¾-inch-thick steel plates vary in height from two feet near the edge of the trail to 13 feet where the restroom is enclosed. They elegantly rise in a gentle, vertical, staccato rhythm. The plates are positioned horizontally in a manner that provides natural ventilation and blocks views into the restroom’s interior.

The roof and door are also made of ¾-inch-thick Corten steel. The roof is a single, free- shaped steel plate that partially protects the enclosure from the elements. Natural light enters the space primarily from above, through gaps of varied dimensions between the vertical plates and the roof, highlighting reddish patterns in the oxidizing steel. The door is a massive and imposing 840 lbs. of steel plate. Stainless steel plumbing fixtures are set on a bare concrete floor.

The intangible aspects of the project are educational. Louis I. Kahn approached his universal truth by regarding the program as a guide and not as a command. The architects at Miró Rivera are clearly artists who, like Kahn, never read the program literally. Moving beyond the functional requirements, they transformed the project from a one-dimensional satisfaction of programmatic needs.

The enduring lessons in this captivating project lie in the demonstration of how clear vision, creativity, and artistic intent can transform a mundane structure, from which not much is expected, into a richly layered work of art and architecture.

Description by Dror Baldinger for Texas Society of Architects


3 photos, 1 video and 1 drawing

Building Activity

  • Antonina Ilieva
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