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Futuristic toilet designed to tell a story about 'the forward thinking of San Francisco' broke down just three days after inaugural flush

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Image credit: San Francisco Public Works, YouTube - video screenshot

San Francisco city officials unveiled a new self-cleaning toilet last week. Designed to reflect San Francisco values, the toilet stopped working within days of its inaugural flush.

This latest dysfunction in the Democrat-run city casts doubt not only on the whether the designers followed through on their aim of coming up with something as "indestructible as possible," but also on the utility of the city building 24 toilets just like it.

Plunging into forward thinking

Touted by the San Francisco Chronicle as the "future of public toilets," a so-called self-cleaning "Amenipod" was recently installed at the edge of Embarcadero Plaza and opened to the public on Nov. 23.

The Department of Public Works said in a press release that the "next-generation restrooms are environmentally sustainable, brighter and easier to keep clean."

They may be easier to keep clean on account of people being unable to use them.

On Friday afternoon, on its third day of public use, the futuristic-looking restroom broke down.

According to the SFist, the restroom apparently got stuck out of place during its self-cleaning cycle.

A supervisor allegedly said that after "some lady went in there," the mechanized restroom had not reset to its sitting position.

While Public Works claimed that the "toilet was offline for about two hours during business hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) over the weekend," the SFist noted that it wasn't working Friday afternoon, Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon.

Reflecting San Francisco

The restroom was designed by the Detroit-based firm SmithGroup JRR, which won the contract in 2018.

Bill Katz, design principal at SmithGroup, explained that the restroom was made so that it "figuratively and literally reflected the neighborhoods that it's in."

"We also wanted it to tell a larger story ... about design culture and the forward thinking of San Francisco," added Katz.

According to Public Works, "SmithGroup’s design is forward-thinking, combining … environmental sustainability with modern technology and materials. This 21st-century street furniture reflects our San Francisco values, as we invest in a public realm designed with dignity, inclusivity, and beauty."

The toilet's architect, Tyler Krehlik of SmithGroup, said the idea behind the toilet was to "make it as indestructible as possible. ... We spent a lot of (design) time coming up with something to look at that would also be simple and durable from a technical standpoint."

Katz said in a video uploaded to YouTube by San Francisco Public Works that "it's not just a restroom, [the bathroom is] a sculpture that's out on the street."

San Francisco residents in the city's financial district may not always have a place to relieve themselves, but they might otherwise find relief in having more modern art to gape at.

You get what you pay for

The toilet and others like it will be maintained by the France-based advertising and street furniture company JCDecaux, which also underwrote the cost of the design, manufacturing, installation, and maintenance of the human waste receptacles.

Francois Nion of JCDecaux said, "The agreement is, we provide the equipment, including the ongoing maintenance and the services, for the next many years. But in exchange, we have the right to sell some advertising on some kiosks in the city."

KNTV reported that JCDecaux has had this arrangement with the city for the past 25 years and recently renewed the deal, re-securing the right to install 114 sidewalk advertising kiosks throughout San Francisco's downtown.

In addition to the advertising kiosks and this malfunctioning new installation, JCDecaux maintains 24 other toilet kiosks around San Francisco. Although the other kiosks are presently the recognizable green Art Nouveau-style toilets, they too will be swapped out for the stainless steel Amenipods.

Joe Kukura, writing for the SFist, suggested that "with this new 'futuristic' model now in the fritz, we may be getting what we paid for with these free public toilets."

A Next-Generation Public Toilet - Public Works TV Episode 71youtu.be

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