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Beetz Public Toilets

Vienna was subjected to a growing population by the mid-19th century and required better hygiene and public conveniences with the improved knowledge of diseases. The Vienna City Council founded the Urinal Commission in 1863 to install public toilet facilities throughout the city. Johann Gottlieb Wilhelm Beetz, a German-Austrian building contractor, offered a 25-year contract to the City of Vienna in 1880 to build public toilets modelled on the lavatories of Berlin. There were several protests by the population against building public toilets in the Ringstrasse, resistance by the  Schottenstift- a Benedictine monastery, objections from the church authorities which limited the construction in several proposed locations. After several heated discussions and compromises, the proposal got accepted, and the Beetz company built seventy-three facilities in Vienna by 1910, and operated around 200 toilets and urinals till the 1930s.

The first model of toilets, also called  Closet-Hauschen, were small wooden houses with cabins for men and women that soon turned out to be lucrative and were described as "practical, quite comfortable and luxuriously furnished". The municipality wanted public toilets to be camouflaged as street furniture, as a result of which, Beetz replaced wood with iron and glass in his design of the public lavatory on the Parkring; fashioning it in a Secessionist style and implementing the form of the waiting halls of the Viennese horse tramway. In 1904, Beetz built the first underground public toilet in Graben based on the architect Franz Krasny's plans in an attempt to make these toilets even more discreet. The underground structure of 14.5 × 7.7 meters with a height of 3 meters is the last existing public Art-Nouveau toilet in Vienna which can be accessed via two staircases with corresponding labels to separate the genders and adorned with two gas lanterns which doubled as ventilation chimneys. Beetz invented the oil siphon in 1883 where the metal urinal in toilets is coated in a special oil containing disinfectant, the 'urinol'. The use of urinol saved water flushing and kept the odours out, creating an early form of the dry urinal for which he received numerous well-deserved honours. In 1903, the City of Vienna decided to switch to these dry urinals to prevent damage in the water flushing systems during winters.

Vienna has always been immersed in art and culture, even in its most banal structures of public toilets built by Wilhelm Beetz listed as monuments, some of which are open for public use even today.

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Drawings of the first underground public toilet in Graben next to the Josefsbrunnen.

Sources: “Öffentliche Bedürfnisanstalt am Graben”, Wikipedia, May 25, 2019, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%96ffentliche_Bed%C3%BCrfnisanstalt_am_Graben
  1. “Wilhelm Beetz (Bauunternehmer)”, Wikipedia, May 23, 2019, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Beetz_(Bauunternehmer)
  2. “Vienna at Your Convenience: A History of Public Toilets: Archives: The Vienna Review”, Archives | The Vienna Review, accessed May 03, 2021, https://www.theviennareview.at/archives/2012/vienna-at-your-convenience-a-history-of-public-toilets-2
  3. “Toilets of Vienna: A Flush of Relief”, Metropole, November 20, 2019,  https://metropole.at/toilets-of-vienna-a-flush-of-relief/