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Sulphur Springs’s Glass-Walled Public Toilet Vies to Succeed Buc-ees as “America’s Best Restroom”

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Buc-ees was already, by their own account, “Number 1 for Number 1 and Number 2” before the convenience store’s mega New Braunfels location won 2012’s “America’s Best Restroom” contest. And Texas might officially remain the best place to relieve yourself in 2013, thanks to Sulphur Springs‘s “Public Glass Bathrooms,” one of 10 finalists in the current contest

Whereas Buc-ees reigned over all other lavatories based on size and cleanliness (see “Holy Crap,” from the October Texas Monthly for a look behind the scenes), Sulphur Springs has tranformed plumbling, sanitation and relief into a very public, yet completely tasteful work of art: the world’s most expensive and prettiest port-a-potty, made entirely with one-way mirrors. As the contest site explains:

This small Texas town took a big leap back in 2012 when they debuted two all–glass bathrooms on their downtown square, the first of their kind in the United States. The pair of glass potties didn’t come cheap though. The masterpieces cost the City a pretty penny — $54,000 to be exact.

In order for the illusion to work properly, the outside of the structure must be more lit than the inside. These bathrooms have no lights on the inside and in order to see at night, LED lights were placed on the outside of the structure, for the illusion to remain. Sulphur Springs has the only functional, permanent and code complying glass bathrooms constructed with one-way mirrors. Users of the facility can see out, however, no one can see in. The design includes a spacious wheelchair-accessible interior and a gleaming stainless steel toilet and sink.

Sulphur Springs’s competition includes New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel, a Portland, Oregon video arcade and a Florida ice cream shop with a similar concept (using liquid crystal). Voting in the 12th annual contest, which is put on by the restroom and business services company Cintas, ends tomorrow, October 31st.

KLTV Channel 7 in Tyler reported on the bathrooms, which are open to the public every day from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m., last year.

“It was strange when you had four men standing out there looking in the door, but they couldn’t see me,” Sulphur Springs resident, Meredith Caddell told the station. 

The bathrooms were directly inspired by “Don’t Miss A Sec,” a 2004 art installation by Monica Bonivicini. As NBC News reported then, the piece was first placed outside the Tate Britain national gallery, near the River Thames, and also near a construction site. 

Bonvicini’s initial inspirationand the reason for the titlecame from art openings, where people never want to go to the bathroom, lest they miss a gossip-worthy moment (i.e., “FOMO”). The metaphor still works in Sulphur Springs, as one can use the bathroom while still glimpsing at town square events, such as a car show, concert or the farmer’s market.

As Sulphur Springs city manager Marc Maxwell explained to KLTV, the city’s facility differs from Bonvicini’s installation in two key ways: it has a steel frame, and only three of the four walls are glass, as the fourth one holds the pipes, as well as heat and air conditioning.

Bonivicini was also riffing on Great Britain’s ubiquitious CCTVs, particularly given the fact that the Tate site was previously the location of 19th-century prison, built by Jeremy Bentham. Her toilet reversed Bentham’s famous “Panopticon” surveillance concept, making the watched into a watcher, a concept that has not lost any relevance in 2013 given the NSA surveillance scandal, and the rise of the drones. 

And of course, Sulphur Springs’ square has good security and monitoring. “If you take a look around we’ve got nine cameras here on this square watching what goes on. They’re all monitored at the police department and they’re all recording in HD color. So trust me, this is the last place a creep wants to hang out,” Sulphur Springs City manager Marc Maxwell told the station. 

According to NBC, Bonivicini’s tolets didn’t get that much use in London. That doesn’t seem to be the case in Sulphur Springs. Here’s video of one local resident, Jill Ann Mckeever, and her children, checking out the bathrooms.

  Could Texas (or at least events like SXSW, Austin City Limits and college football tailgates) be ready for European-style public urinals next? 

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