The Ghosts of London’s Abandoned Public Toilets

The modern public bathroom was born in London. In the mid-19th century, Victorian London began to install public water closets for the comfort of men (and, eventually, women) about town. For the price of a penny, the public could descend into underground lavatories to do their business. Most of these conveniences closed sometime in the years after World War II, but the facilities still stand.

Photographer Agnese Sanvito examines the quiet beauty of these once-vital, now abandoned Victorian bathrooms in her latest series. The project doesn’t have an official name yet, but Sanvito is partial to the title the blog Spitalfields Life bestowed on it, “Toilets at Dawn.” She captures the above-ground portions of the antique restrooms, where anyone could once pee for just a penny, in the golden hours of the early morning when they're at their most picturesque.

“In 2010 I started noticing the elegant structures of Victorian public toilets across London,” she said in a statement emailed to mental_floss. “These once proud and eccentric symbols of English civilization have since fallen into closure and blended into the background fabric of the city.”

When she first began photographing, the toilets were practically urban ruins. “Often they were full of rubbish or had trees and weeds growing out of them,” she said. “The decorative and elegant designs of the ironwork left forgotten within the grunginess and decay took on a new beauty, which first inspired me to start photographing them.”

While you can’t just stop in for a quick pee anymore, some of the former public potties are still up and running, just in different forms. The one below has been redeveloped into a bar, and is selling for more than $1.4 million (the listing call it “quirky and full of character,” surely a euphemism for antique poop if we’ve ever heard one).

At dawn, the city's quiet, deserted streets add to the slightly eerie, lonely feeling evoked by the vintage toilet cellars. 

This one is now a cafe. The original urinals are still there, but they’ve become seating.

Though London’s once-elegant Victorian toilets have been shuttered, the city's “spend a penny” culture lives on. There are quite a few modern pay toilets elsewhere around town—the train station pay toilets make bank. A free pee, though, can be harder to find.

[h/t Neatorama]

All images by Agnese Sanvito

Why 1 Million People Live in Cold War-Era Bunkers Under the Streets of Beijing

iStock.com/Wenjie Dong
iStock.com/Wenjie Dong

In Beijing, anywhere between 100,000 to one million people live underground in old bomb shelters. Dubbed the shuzu, or "rat tribe," these subterranean citizens occupy a cramped, musty, and windowless world located dozens of feet below the bustling streets of China's capital city. This extensive network of largely illicit bunker housing is unlike anything found in any other major metropolis in the world.

The roots of Beijing's invisible underworld were laid during what could be called the other Cold War. In 1969, tensions between China and the Soviet Union escalated, with the two communist-led countries clashing at the Sino-Soviet border. When Chinese troops ambushed Soviet border guards that year at Zhenbao Island—a disputed territory located in the middle of the Ussuri River separating northeastern China from Russia's Far East—the hostilities turned bloody, prompting both countries to prepare for a possible nuclear attack. In China, Chairman Mao Zedong advised his cities to build nuclear bomb shelters. Beijing responded by constructing approximately 10,000 bunkers.

By the late 1980s, China's government had started to liberalize and tensions with the Soviet Union had cooled, leading the Office of Civil Defense to lease these shelters to local landlords, who in turn began leasing the spaces to desperate migrant workers and young people. For many, living dozens of feet underground in a windowless bunker was the only way to chase their dreams of scaling the social ladder. That remains true today.

It’s a familiar tale: The cost of living in Beijing is high and still rising. With more than 21 million people now calling the city home, it is among the world’s most expensive places to live. The rising cost of rent far outpaces the average person's income, yet people continue to flock to the area because it brims with social and economic opportunity. “[W]ith limited access to public, affordable housing, nuclear bunkers are one of the few feasible options for migrant workers,” Ye Ming writes for National Geographic. A small, shared dorm in a concrete bunker can cost as little as $20 per month.

For many, the central location makes these bunkers worthwhile despite the lack of space and sunlight. As Annette M. Kim, an associate professor of public policy at USC, writes in the academic journal Cities, “[T]he priority for the lower-income, often migrant population in Beijing is for rental housing located in the central city. The ability to walk and/or bike to jobs as well as low rents, both of which allow for the possibility of accumulating savings, is worth making the choice to live in small underground rooms.”

As you might expect from a converted nuclear fallout shelter, the spaces have some of the basics—plumbing, sewage, and electricity—and very little of anything else. There’s no natural light, there's very little ventilation, and most amenities, such as kitchens and bathrooms, must be shared with neighbors. And while Ming reports that local law requires apartments to have at least 43 square feet per tenant, that rule is clearly not enforced. Some apartments might as well be closets.

But as Kim explains, super-dense housing conditions aren't unique to Beijing. “[T]his is not an idiosyncratic situation. History shows that immigrants coped by living in crowded basement units as well as tenements during the west’s rapid urbanization.”

The question is whether that trend should—or will—continue in the future. In 2010, the city announced a ban on residential use of nuclear shelters, but the decree has done little to stop people from making their homes there. “If it is desirable to not allow people to live underground, we are challenged with the task of finding other spaces for roughly a million people,” Kim writes.

For foreigners, it can be difficult to gain access to this underground shelter city. In 2015, the Italian photographer Antonio Faccilongo managed to sneak below, capturing life in the bunkers for a series entitled Atomic Rooms. For a look inside, you can view his work here.

Architect Creates Renderings of Frank Lloyd Wright Designs That Were Never Built

Frank Lloyd Wright designed more than a thousand works in his lifetime, but hundreds of his ideas were never built. One of those was the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective, a tourist attraction commissioned in 1924. Now, thanks to new renderings by Spanish architect David Romero, you can get a better idea of what the proposed project might have looked like had it been completed, as Curbed reports.

Romero is the creator of Hooked on the Past, a project in which he translates plans for Frank Lloyd Wright's unbuilt designs into photorealistic scale renderings. He imports data and plans Wright drew up for the projects into modern modeling software in order to create the most accurate renderings possible of what these structures would have looked like. For the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective images, he collaborated with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which recently ran the images in its magazine, Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly.

A spiraling building on top of a mountain
David Romero

Intended to stand atop Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the plan for the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective called for a planetarium and restaurant to accompany a scenic overlook. Its developer, wealthy Chicago businessman Gordon Strong, envisioned it as a destination where families would drive for the day from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The design shifted substantially from draft to draft. In some, it called for a dance hall instead of a planetarium; in another, a theater. He also designed in waterfalls, pedestrian paths, bridges, an aquarium, and a car showroom.

A rendering of a pedestrian bridge
The unbuilt Butterfly Wing Bridge
David Romero

Above all, it was to be a destination for drivers, as the name suggests, and visitors would have driven up to park along its spiral structure—similar to the one that would later come to life in the design of the Guggenheim museum, which Romero looked to as inspiration while translating Wright's failed plans into 3D renderings.

A rendering of a spiral-shaped building at night
David Romero

Romero also painstakingly researched the context and location of the building, including adding era-appropriate cars, traces of rain and dirt on the building, and other details in order to bring the project to life. As a result, at times it can be hard to tell these are illustrations rather than stylized photographs.

Romero has also created similarly detailed renderings of other unbuilt or demolished Frank Lloyd Wright projects, including ones that have long since been destroyed, like the demolished Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, New York and the burned-down Rose Pauson House in Arizona. You can see more here.

[h/t Curbed]

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