Mell Lawrence Architects
Balfour Beatty


The Heron Creek Restroom consists of two small shelters totaling less than 500 square feet. Fabricated from board-formed concrete walls with weathering steel canopies, each of the accessible, daylit, open-air enclosures contains a sink, commode, and low bench.


Were it not for the signs indicating the function of these two extraordinary structures, they might easily be mistaken for small trailside chapels. Their soaring metal vaults, cross-shaped door locks, and harmonious arrangement coalesce to create an atmosphere that feels almost sacred. Even once their mundane function is revealed, it’s hard to shake the sense that there are deeper forces at work. After all, architecture’s highest purpose is providing shelter to the individual.

Like the other bespoke restrooms on the trail, this project was funded with donations raised by The Trail Foundation, a nonprofit organization that maintains the hike-and-bike trail, with design and construction services donated by the architect and builder.

The Heron Creek Restroom is an exploration of form, texture, light, and shadow. Following on the heels of two artful precedents, the Heron Creek Restroom continues the variation on a theme of weathering steel (a nod to the Miró Rivera Restroom) and board-formed concrete (see the Johnson Creek Restroom).

Although the two pavilions are made from concrete and steel, their tent-like appearance gives them a sense of delicate impermanence, accentuated by the fact that the canopies appear to float slightly above the ground. Likewise, their monumental height contrasts with their miniscule footprints—the structures loom large despite their small square footage. The two pavilions are linked by a curving concrete patio engraved with a single line—yet another seemingly commonplace element that holds a deeper meaning. For those in the know (which now includes you!), following the visual axis of this line southward points directly to the outlet of Barton Creek on the opposite shore.

Inside, delicate details and thoughtful flourishes reflect a strong sense of place. The height of the canopy above the women’s restroom is revealed to be the result of the architect’s desire to capture the branches of a nearby tree. The thick concrete walls at either end, which provide lateral bracing for the structures, also impart a sense of security. During the day, a mix of dappled and direct sunlight streams in from openings in each canopy, accentuating the reddish-brown texture of the steel and the striations of the concrete. What better way to appreciate the call of nature? – Bud Franck

Photo Credits:

Atelier Wong Photography (1-7); Whit Preston (8-12); Mell Lawrence Architects (13)