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Repurposing the Public Toilets of Dublin, Ireland

Repurposing the Public Toilets of Dublin, Ireland

Dotted around Dublin there are dozens of former “public conveniences” or public toilets now unused, boarded and chained shut. These small, single story Victorian and Edwardian units were once an essential part of everyday life for many Dubliners. During the last century, a number of public toilet units were constructed around the Dublin City area

Dotted around Dublin there are dozens of former "public conveniences" or public toilets now unused, boarded and chained shut. These small, single story Victorian and Edwardian units were once an essential part of everyday life for many Dubliners.

Ternure public toilet in Dublin, Ireland

During the last century, a number of public toilet units were constructed around the Dublin City area to provide much needed services to the public. At the time of construction these units were absolutely essential considering there were many households without indoor toilets of their own. Those living in these houses were entirely dependent on the public toilet service provided by local authorities.

At their busiest, approximately 400 people were employed by Dublin City Council to run these units however, by the mid twentieth century, the toilets had become increasingly expensive to run and began to attract anti-social behavior. Homes and businesses around the city were now being built with their own indoor toilets meaning the public units were becoming increasingly redundant.

In the 1970s the council began to board up and lock the public toilets and in the early 1990s the last few remaining units, kept open to service busy city center locations, were shut. The last remaining units had become notorious for drug use in the city and unfortunately left an unsavory reputation for the public conveniences that were once such an indispensable part of life for many Dubliners.

In 2012, UK architect Laura Clark gained attention from the media when she transformed a derelict underground former public toilet in southeast London into a stunning one bedroom apartment.

Clark has no doubt provided inspiration to Dublin City Council, who have in recent years begun to examine the potential uses of Dublin’s unused public toilets. In the past two years a two former public toilet units have come on the market.

In 2013, a former public toilet in Dublin’s Ballsbridge, home to the country’s most expensive real estate, went up for auction and in early 2014 Dublin City Council sought proposals from parties interested in renting a former public toilet in Harold’s Cross Park (pictured below) and running it as a coffee shop.

Harolds Cross Public toilet in Dublin, Ireland

Although the units in Dublin are still derelict or unused, there has been a realization that the former public toilets could be used for any number of different purposes. Many of the units are located in prime real estate locations and with full renovation, could be used to house a number of different types of unique businesses.

What other uses could potentially ensure the preservation and renovation of these units? Are there any other cities that have found new uses for small, redundant units like the public toilets in Dublin?

Credits: Images by Rebecca Mullen. Data linked to sources.

Intern photo

Rebecca is a 3rd year Political Science and Geography student in Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. She has always lived in Dublin and thinks that it is a beautiful city with many hidden treasures. She hopes to pursue a Masters in urban planning aft...

  • Raghu Krishnan

    From what I’ve seen and/or know of Philly and Boston/Cambridge there aren’t too many redundant unused city units sprinkled throughout the city. Public toilets were definitely not seen as something that would be useful as Europe probably did and I do as well. If there’s too many public toilets in Dublin and they can be re-purposed into habitable units then it’s an absolutely grand idea. In these two cities, abandoned subways and above ground rail areas are what I would consider redundant units that are in the process of being re-purposed. The above ground rail areas are being turned into parks and “high line” style pedestrian walkways like in NYC. There is yet to be an underground culture spawned from the abandoned subways but if we thought outside the box and adopted a Japanese frame of mind we would have below ground malls and restaurants. OR…we turn back the clock and actually pursue mass public transportation again and reinstate trains/trams and try to reduce the driving population. Either way we do it, it would lead to the beautification of the urban landscape and encourage multi-use city parcels and re-purposing as a means to revitalize abandoned areas. Praise to Dublin for doing this! I can only imagine how much one of these apartments will cost…

    • I hadn’t even thought of the highline it’s such a great example of repurposing of disused infrastructure. Most of the unused public toilets in Dublin are above ground too which is has a definite advantage!

  • Perhaps it would be interesting, and financially viable, to convert one or more of these shuttered public toilet units into an upscale spa. While I am typically reluctant to privatize public spaces, presumably Dublin no longer has any public use for these spaces, yet there is a desire to preserve some of their history. In that case, an adaptive reuse that can maintain the architecture (and hopefully generate revenue for other public benefits) seems beneficial.

    So, why a spa? And why upscale? It offers an interesting evolution in the use, that makes for a compelling narrative. The original space was connected with plumbing and offered privacy – attributes that a spa shares. The size of the space seems somewhat small, so it a higher-end market may be necessary to make a go of it as a business.

    There could be some counter-arguments. A place built to meet the needs of the common person would be appropriated for the exclusive luxury of more affluent residents. Yet, the reality today seems to be that everybody is excluded and public resources are not being leveraged to provide for the common good.

  • Alex

    Sadly the public toilets in Terenure (in the first photo) were torn down last year to make way for an ALDI … (there’s already a LIDL in Terenure). This city depresses the hell out of me sometimes

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