Minturn uses 3-D design for new bathrooms | VailDaily.com

Minturn uses 3-D design for new bathrooms

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

MINTURN — Public restrooms aren't normally associated with the phrases "work of art" or "cutting-edge technology," but that's just what seems to be the case with Minturn's newest facilities.

If you've been in downtown Minturn, then you may have noticed them already — two earthen-colored small buildings sitting near the river in Eagle Park. From afar, they look like small storage sheds, or maybe crumpled, gigantic cardboard boxes. Those are the town's newest public restroom facilities, built and designed using innovative 3-D design technology.

One of the walls of each of the buildings is composed hundreds of stacked plywood, each unique and cut by a computerized mill. The end result is what looks like a wooden wave or modern art installation. Some finishing touches are still needed for the facilities, which will be completed in April, but the end result is designed to look like the interior of a narrow stone canyon. The interiors are decorated with colorful metal butterflies and cutouts of pine trees.

"We wanted to honor the mining and railroad history of Minturn, so it's made to look a little like a mine shaft," said Minturn Planning Director Janet Hawkinson.

The idea began when Minturn decided it needed public restroom facilities to accommodate its bustling Minturn summer markets. As town staff began looking into buying pre-made, concrete facilities, they were shocked at the price — a one-stall restroom building went for $175,000.

Hawkinson has done work with 3-D modeling and thought the restrooms would be a good candidate project for the technology. The town was lucky enough to enlist the help of some experts on the subject, including Boulder-based LaN Architecture and Minturn's own LGM, a 3-D printing company, and the project began to take shape.

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The unconventional bathrooms are also saving money — the two restrooms plus landscaping only came in at $100,000, which was funded both with a grant from Eagle County and a match from the town of Minturn.

"We think it's fun because it's functional art, and we get to utilize some of the talents in the community," said Hawkinson.

How it works

3-D design and fabrication is a growing field that's gotten a lot of press lately, and computers have been used to design and fabricate everything from art installations to furniture to runway clothing. To Hawkinson's knowledge, this is the first time the technology has been used to create something as utilitarian and mundane as public restrooms.

Here's how it works: Using a computer program, architects design a building. The components of the structure — in this case a wall — is broken down into many pieces, and each piece is given a dimension using an algorithm. Then, a special mill is used to cut each individual piece, and then final product is then assembled like an intricate Lego set. In the case of the Minturn bathrooms, the contoured wall was built out of 320 individually cut plywood pieces.

Charles Overy, owner of LGM, played a big part in the design and fabrication. The company started out using 3-D printing to build architectural models, and now creates products such as airplane wings. However, Overy said he had never tackled a full-sized building until the restroom project.

"We knew we wanted to build some full-sized things, so this was a great opportunity," said Overy. "When you think about how we're going to be building things in 20 years, I like to think that we'll be doing a lot more pre-fabricated buildings, using this technology to cut panels and create building components."

The design of the buildings also addresses some of the common nuisances that come with public restrooms — they smell bad, they're hard to clean and they tend to get vandalized. Minturn's restrooms are made from materials that don't absorb and keep odors, and they're also designed for no-fuss cleaning with a pressure hose. The outer walls can be cleaned and the plywood portion can be replaced.

"We could have had a green painted, concrete bathroom, but it was an opportunity to do a whole lot more," said Overy.

A community effort

The restrooms were a community effort, which also helped cut down on costs, said Hawkinson.

Besides LGM and LaN Architecture, Noble Welding and Fabrication from Gypsum, Jerry Sibley Plumbing of Minturn, the Edwards Building Center, Minturn Public Works and local steel artist Tom Cleaveland all pitched in with the project. The building became a learning project as well when Overy hired on Minturn high school student Mason Vance as an intern to help with the process. Vance did so well that Overly hired him for the summer as well. Overy said locally based contracts help expand and challenge the community.

"I think government needs to innovate and push the boundaries of what the community can produce," he said. "I think a lot of local communities have been doing a good job of that. For this project, all the money came right back to Eagle County, which is great."

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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