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20 Creative Manhole Covers

Microsoft is famous for their interview question, “why are manhole covers typically round?” While the question is asked to potential employees to discover their method of creative problem solving and ability to think on their feet, it’s true that manhole covers are typically round – for several reasons, including the fact that a round manhole cover cannot fall through a manhole, a round cover has a smaller surface thus needing less material in the casting process, and because the functionality is improved with the ability to be rolled, easily locked into place, and to stay flat under the presence of traffic and road movement.

There are; however, manhole covers that are different shapes, and even within the realm of roundness, there are some brilliantly creative and artistic manhole covers in place. Let’s take a look:

Japanese Manhole Covers

In the 1980s, Japan standardized their sewer system with round covers, moving away from geometric shapes. The project was initially met with resistance, but one bureaucrat solved the issue by allowing municipalities to choose their own design, and now 95% of manhole covers are specially designed. Here are a few examples:

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Eco Manhole Cover
This “eco” manhole cover, designed by Cheolyeon Jo and Youngsun Lee is a digital cover, which harnesses the rainwater to power it, giving you instant information on the nearest train station or bus stop with a tap of your foot.

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Most Delicious Looking Manhole Cover
This Oreo cookie manhole cover concept was designed by Andrew Lewicki.
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Milan Manhole Project
While they don’t strictly follow the “round” design specifications that manhole covers typically follow, Milan recently took note of Japan’s amazing covers and and introduced a project to bring artistically designed manhole covers to the Italian City, featuring unique designs and vivid colors that reflect the culture and passion of the region.

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City Shields
Louise Levergneux released a photographic documentation collection that explores the urban streets of Canadian, Scottish, and American cities, using manhole covers to depict exploration of geographical locations on her journey. Reprinting photographs as digital prints on die-cut paper, Louise crops them to isolate the shapes of individual covers, offering a bird’s eye view to emphasize sculptural qualities.

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Illuminated Manhole
Using rings of light to draw attention to the manhole, this illuminated manhole concept design was designed by Kim Pil Gon, Seo Il Kyung, and Ha Nam Mi, winning a Red Dot Design Concept Award in the Protection category. It would provide an option for areas that are dark and have no alternate covering.

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Copenhagen, Denmark
This manhole cover from Copenhagen, Denmark features a herd of elephants.

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Strzegom, Poland
This Polish manhole cover design features the Star of David in its pattern.

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Bronze BBQ
This manhole cover is located in Minneapolis, designed by a citizen who submitted his design for a program supporting Art in Public Places. This Bar-B-Q grill with brats and hamburgers was submitted to fit the theme of “celebrate entertainment in the city” and was one of only eleven designs chosen.

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Bonus: A manhole from Madison, Wisconsin. Sent in by Joe Dvorak (photo by Jay Holtz, P.E.)

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TNphoto Tatsuya Nakagawa
Tatsuya Nakagawa is the VP of Marketing and co-founder of Castagra Products, a storage tank and wastewater coatings manufacturing company that is highly acclaimed for its sustainable coatings and cold weather coating applications. Castagra products are NSF-61 certified and are used by the world’s top water and wastewater contractors.