Monday, June 15, 2009

Manhole Cover Designs: Urban Industrial Artworks under Our Feet

Manhole design has been around for many years, since the era of ancient Rome to be exact, when people began using sewage and drainage systems. An extraordinary ahead-of-its-time book by Mimi and Robert Melnick is most likely, however, to be the first attempt to define and document manhole covers and their place in (American) culture as an urban industrial art. As described by MITpress in the book intro:
"They lie underfoot, embellished and gleaming. They seal off and provide entry to an underground world of conduits, water mains, power lines, and sewers. They appear by the thousands in our cities, but very few people ever look at them or think about them as art. At once completely ordinary and totally unexpected, manhole covers present an infinite variety of design in the commonplace as well as a record of defunct utility companies, forgotten business firms, and obsolete foundries."

Manhole cover design varies greatly from city to city, with each municipality particular approach for budget versus art. According to, a website dedicated to Fine Sewer Art and Manhole Cover Photography - some cities, such as Seattle, opted for a clever street map design on their covers while others go for city logos or seals. A few cities, such as Vancouver, Seattle, New York and Tokyo, went even further and pursued commissioned designer covers. Furthermore, in competitions to find the best designs, these cities have had their communities actively participating in waste awareness. Above: "In Direct Line With Another & The Next", taken in Downtown, New York by Jenna, via Jason Eppink.

With their own astonishing variety depending on locality, utility type and manufacturer but often including a symbol specific to an area or town as part of the overall design, Japanese are considered amongst the most extraordinary manhole covers. In Kyoto, for example, a turtle symbolizing wisdom and longevity is the main motif. In other cases local landmarks, festivals or flora and fauna are used ( Above: manhole cover in Himeji by tickle_tickle. The following are a few of the most interesting cover designs as photographed and collected by people in Japan, USA, Germany, Canada and Mexico. If you have any photos of other interesting manhole covers from around the world please send them over or post their links here as a comment. Enjoy!

Manholes in Japan

Kobe (1), Japan
By Alexis Lê-Quôc [Source]

Kobe (2), Japan.
By Janne Moren [Source]

Kobe (3), Japan.
By Janne Moren [Source]

Takaoka, Japan.
By Trane DeVore, Troutfactory [Source]

Fukuoka, Japan.
By Trane DeVore, Troutfactory [Source]

Toshogu, Japan.
By Trane DeVore, Troutfactory [Source]

Fire hydrant cover at Hanahaku park with the character from the flower exhibition in 1990.
By Janne Moren [Source]

Manholes in USA

Seattle, USA.
By JR Conlin [Source]

San Francisco, USA.
By mr.nunez.sfo [Source]

East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, USA
By Nick Sherman [Source].

Manholes in Germany

Berlin, Germany
By Ted Stevens [Source]

Freiburg i.Br., Germany
By madcrow [Source]

Manhole in Canada

Vancouver, Canada.
By Fecki [Source]

Manhole in Mexico

Unknown, Mexico
By Avi Dolgin [Source]

Manhole Collections

Host, aka Puppenspieler
Janne Moren aka Jannem
Trane DeVore, aka Troutfactory (Also see Japan’s beautiful manhole covers)

Top montage

Left: "In Direct Line With Another & The Next", taken in Downtown, New York by Jenna, via Jason Eppink, Manhole in Mexico by Avi Dolgin [Source], Manhole in Freiburg i.Br., Germany by madcrow [Source], Right: Manhole in Takaoka, Japan by Trane DeVore, Troutfactory [Source].


  1. Love it. Love it. Love it. I have a real fondness for everyday art; stuff that a lot of people wouldn't even look twice at. Manhole covers definitely fall into this category.

    I love how towns, cities, states etc create and utilize their own unique designs. Recently in San Francisco I found myself scouting around the ground taking pictures of things like manhole covers and other industrial plates.

    Thanks for bringing these to light with a fun and informative post!

  2. Great compilation @cultcase!

    I'm really glad I embedded your RSS in - your blog is always full of great inspiration for my students : )

    I tweet @pop_art

  3. Marvelous. Thanks megas!

  4. ajay jain7.2.12

    extremely beautiful!!!


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