Rising ominously out of the ground every night, like a stainless steel robotic nightmare, Amsterdam’s latest public toilet for women looks somewhat out of place next to the 17th Century royal palace on Dam Square but it is there to protect this symbolically important part of the country’s heritage. The palace, with its majestically shady alcoves, is a popular spot for drunks, tourists and other reprobates to unleash their heaving bladders without having to pay €1 to some money-grubbing cafe or bar owner.
Sadly, this continual tsunami of urine soaks deeply into the building’s historic brickwork, causing permanent damage and a pungent aroma of pee that many visitors, incorrectly and unfairly, attributed to Queen Beatrix.
The new robo-loo, which offers the opportunity for illegal pissers to go legit and avoid the risk of a €130 fine if caught with their pants down, caters to both men and women, with bowls on the outside for men to pee into while women have an enclosed space for a little more privacy. Under no circumstances, however, are women to take advantage of the situation: the unit is intended for peeing only, if you have more advanced plans you should go home and use your own facilities.
This not Amsterdam’s first retractable toilet, there are 10 others in the city, but it is the first for women. Designed by Dutch company Urilift, the vandalism-resistant loos are intended to remain under the ground most of the time but are raised up at “peak pee” times, such as at night or during festivals. The Appeldoorn-based company have installed 200 retractable toilets all over the world.
It seemed to be the perfect solution for Amsterdam’s unique combination of historic grandeur and intoxicated hedonism but all orders for further retractable toilets were dramatically put on hold in late 2014 when an underground gas explosion on the Leidseplein shot a retracted toilet straight into the air, taking along with it a moped that had been parked on top. The moped landed on pedestrian, breaking eight ribs and placing a question mark over the future of the innovative design. Luckily for Urilift, it turned out that no-one much liked that particular pedestrian and orders soon resumed.
Asked how the company planned to stop women using the new pee-only facility to evacuate their bowels along with their bladder, Urilift director Marco Schimmel would only darkly note that “If something else is deposited the system can handle it” but would neither confirm nor deny that such an infringement would cause the toilet to rapidly descend, trapping the screaming occupant deep in ground. Pressed on what, exactly he meant by “handle it”, Mr. Schimmel would only repeat “If something else is deposited … the system … can … handle it”.