Bathrooms with Killer Views

These outdoor privies in Rocky Mountain National Park have won awards for their striking design.

Built to weather a storm: For the less industrious hiker, the privy at Clapham Junction is a mere 3.2 miles from the trailhead. Students anchored the steel plate of the structure into the boulders at the four corners before filling the gabion cages with stones collected on site. The waste box sits to the side. Photo by Erik Sommerfeld.

The outdoor privy has long been the bane of campers and hikers. Using nature is more comfortable than using some of the facilities the National Park Service or State Parks offers.

The NPS installed its first backcountry facilities on the Keyhole route of Longs Peak in 1983. NPS workers shoveled the waste by hand and llamas carried the buckets down the mountain. Clearly, the NPS needed a better solution.

Hikers and campers rejoice, and unplug your noses. In search of a new and improved privy, the 24 students in the Colorado Building Workshop, University of Colorado’s design-build program in the College of Architecture and Planning, collaborated with the National Park Service and the National Renewal Energy Lab.

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Framing a View: The Boulder Field loo with a view on Longs Peak sits at 12,725 feet above sea level, 5.7 miles from the trailhead. The hike is worth the view from within. The windows frame vistas and give new meaning to blue skies above. Photo by Jesse Kuroiwa.

The American Institute of Architects recognized the Longs Peak toilets and the CU Workshop with its 2019 Small Projects Award in the category of projects under 5,000 square feet. Students installed the new privies at Chasm Meadows, Chasm Junction, and in the Boulder Field on the busy Keyhole route of Longs Peak.

Students designed the new Longs Peak toilets to be light enough to be transported to the site by helicopter but strong enough to withstand winds in excess of 225 miles per hour. The hybrid construction system allowed the gabion walls to be reduced from the initial prefabricated steel thickness of 18 inches down to 12 inches. This minimized onsite construction and rock collection, reducing the impact to the environment by 33 percent.

Photo by Jesse Kuroiwa.

The innovative design also meant the toilets could be assembled on site quickly. For the eight days of construction, students camped below treeline and hiked from three to six miles a day to and from the sites. Students filled the gabions with stones they collected on site, fitting the shapes together as one might put together a jigsaw puzzle. The stones act as ballast for the structure and laterally brace each frame to prevent it from buckling. The open design lets odors escape into thin air.

New methods of waste collection divert urine back into the environment while the solid waste decomposes. The system minimizes the human footprint in Colorado’s backcountry. Furthermore, park crews don’t have to make so many trips in season to haul off waste.

Photo by Erik Sommerfeld.

Technology is impressive, but hikers will appreciate the aesthetics of the loos with a view. Using stone from the site means that the architecture disappears into the surrounding landscape. The toilets have open roofs and windows, framing stunning vistas in all directions.

Now in its 16th year, the AIA Small Project Awards program recognizes small-project practitioners for high quality work. The program also aims to raise awareness about the value and design excellence that architects can bring to projects, regardless of their size or scope. The AIA recognized 12 exceptional designs with its 2019 Small Project Awards. Details of each winning project can be viewed at