The Clever Reason Portland's Public Toilets Offer Little Privacy

Courtesy of the Portland Loo
Courtesy of the Portland Loo

What would it take to design a public toilet that doesn't devolve into a den of drugs, graffiti, and a parade of people who relieve themselves on the floor? That was the challenge facing the city of Portland, Oregon back in 2006, when city commissioner Randy Leonard decided to install sidewalk restrooms that would meet the population's need for relief without becoming a blight on the area.

Their solution was the Portland Loo. And more than a decade after the first Loo was installed, it's demonstrably one of the best approaches to providing facilities that remain clean and free from squalor.

Built by Madden Fabrication, the Loo addresses several of the most common issues facing restrooms open to citizens at large. Nothing about the design invites users to linger inside any longer than they need to in order to conduct their business. That's apparent as soon as you walk into the Loo and find a toilet but no sink. The absence of the latter is to prevent people from performing activities like washing clothes or grooming. (There's no mirror, either.) The only way to clean your hands is to use a spigot mounted on the exterior.

A look at the interior of the Portland Loo
Courtesy of the Portland Loo

The Loo also does away with any sense of privacy. Bars on the top and bottom allow passing police to make sure people are adhering to the single-occupancy mandate and not cavorting. The bars also allow sound to carry. If you're inside, you won't really feel removed from the sidewalk or the passing pedestrians, and it's not likely you'll be relaxed enough to do much more than what nature requires.

In order to discourage drug use, the Loo uses a blue light that makes it difficult to locate veins for intravenous injections.

Vandals won't have much to do with the Loo, either. The coated stainless-steel surface resists spray paint and other markings.

The Loo has migrated to other locations around the country, including Cambridge, Massachusetts; Galveston, Texas; and Hoboken, New Jersey. Loos have also made it to Australia. The prefabricated units can run $100,000, with installation and maintenance costs extra. Later this year, Austin, Texas is set to debut two Loos sourced from Portland. The city plans to dub them the Waterloos.

[h/t CityLab]

Start Your Morning Right With the Alarm Clock That Makes You Coffee

For those who can't function in the morning, a cup of coffee is key. For those who can't even function enough to make that cup of coffee, there's the Barisieur. This innovative alarm clock (now available at Urban Outfitters) awakens the sleeper with the smell of coffee and the gentle rattle of stainless steel ball bearings as the water boils.

Take sugar or milk? There's a special compartment for milk so the liquid stays fresh and cool until you're ready to use it in the morning. On the front, there's a drawer for sugar. The whole tray can even be removed for easy cleaning.

Not a coffee fan? The Barisieur also brews loose-leaf tea.

The milk vessel of the coffee alarm clock
Barisieur, Urban Outfitters

The gadget also has an actual alarm that can be set to sound before or during the coffee making process. 

This invention was thought up by product designer Joshua Renouf as part of his studies at Nottingham Trent University in the UK. Though the idea started as just a prototype for class back in 2015, Renouf managed to make it a reality, and you can now buy one of your very own.

At $445, the alarm clock is quite an investment, but for coffee lovers who have trouble forcing themselves out of bed, it might be more than worth it. Go ahead, picture waking up slowly to the smell of roasted coffee beans and only having to sit up in bed and enjoy.

Buy it at one of the retailers below:

[h/t: Design-Milk.com]

A version of this article first ran in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the product's current availability.

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How Seiichi Miyake and Tactile Paving Changed the World for Visually Impaired People

iStock.com/RonBailey
iStock.com/RonBailey

More than 140 years after Louis Braille invented the Braille reading system, Seiichi Miyake came up with a different system based on touch that allows visually impaired people to navigate public spaces. Today, tactile paving is used by major cities and transportation services around the world. Miyake was so influential that he's the subject of the Google Doodle for March 18, the 52nd anniversary of tactile paving's debut.

The Japanese inventor designed the influential system with a specific person in mind. His friend was losing his vision, so in 1965, Miyake used his own money to build special mats with raised shapes that lead blind and visually impaired people away from danger and toward safety. Pavement with round bumps was meant to signal nearby danger, such as a street crossing or the edge of a train platform, while a stretch of pavement with straight bars was meant to guide them to safe areas. The tactile design allowed pedestrians to detect the features with canes, guide dogs, or their feet.

Originally called Tenji blocks, the tactile pavement was first installed outside the Okayama School for the Blind in Okayama, Japan in 1967. They quickly spread to larger cities, like Tokyo and Osaka, and within a decade, Miyake's system was mandatory in all Japanese rail stations.

Seiichi Miyake died in 1982 at age 56, but the popularity of his invention has only grown since his death. In the 1990s, the U.S., the UK, and Canada embraced tactile pavement in their cities. Miyake's initial design has been built upon throughout the years; there are now pill-shaped bumps to indicate changes in direction and raised lines running perpendicular to foot traffic to signal upcoming steps. And even though they're often thought of as tools for blind people, the bright colors used in tactile pavement also make them more visible to pedestrians with visual impairments.

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