Historical loos could become cafes
Heritage listed underground toilets in the centre of Melbourne could be closed down and reopened as cafes, apartments or shops.PT0M54S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2t6p4 620 349 September 5, 2013
What would you do with an underground toilet that has been around since the First World War? Turn it into a cafe? Hairdresser's? Private apartment?
While ventilation is tricky and there is no natural light, enterprising Melburnians are keen to follow London's lead and give their city's subterranean loos a second life. Residents have contacted Melbourne City Council about converting the well-worn spaces into business ventures and homes.
The council's chair of planning, Ken Ong, said while Melbourne was known for its innovation, any project would need to comply with the city's regulations.
Underground toilet block on Elizabeth Street. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer
''Turning underground, unused facilities like toilets into something else may work, depending on what it is,'' Cr Ong said.
''I wouldn't want to think it could be turned into an apartment. Maybe a barbershop, maybe some sort of little kitchen that cooks something different.''
The council has closed several of the toilets in recent years, even though four of them are heritage-listed and six have been recognised by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).
The council argued the toilets had no natural ventilation or disability access, were expensive to maintain and not frequently used.
Those at Carpentaria Place, on Faraday Street in Carlton, near the Town Hall and the GPO will remain open for now.
This year the male toilet on the corner of Queen and Collins streets was capped with concrete, after being deemed ''a base for sexual activity'' in a 2007 council report.
Chief economist at the Victorian Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Steven Wojtkiw, said the council should create a public competition to come up with the best ideas for the toilets.
For his own part, Mr Wojtkiw suggested they could be used as visitor information centres or myki top-up locations, or for mail boxes and storage lockers.
RMIT architecture lecturer Christine Phillips was thinking along the lines of prayer rooms, bike repair shops, cheap studio accommodation or temporary festival spaces. Her colleague, interior design lecturer Anthony Fryatt, said it would be ''a tragedy'' to lose such atmospheric spots as big business competed for footholds in the streetscape.
''Even the laneways now have become so claimed and so marketable to businesses that are very established, you've got to give these little pockets to new businesses and people with new ideas,'' Mr Fryatt said.
Mr Fryatt has seen his home city of London redevelop old, smelly lavatories into galleries, bars and restaurants.
Architect Laura Jane Clark recently transformed disused loos beneath Crystal Palace Parade into a 600-square foot luxury apartment.
This year another abandoned Victorian restroom became ''The Attendant'' cafe, with original (though much scrubbed) urinals embedded in the layout.