Stevens’ "Big John" Helped Make Homes, Hotels Happier
The distinctive lime-green, 11-story water-pressure tester on the Hoboken waterfront was raised by fixture manufacturer American Standard in 1972 as part of a U.S. government project to improve plumbing technologies in apartment buildings. Stevens professors Daniel Savitsky and the late Thomas Konen helped secure the funding, and Konen later directed the lab.
Its mission inspired its moniker: "Big John" featured sets of toilets on each floor that gauged water-pressure and consumption effects created when various combinations of flushes in an apartment building occurred. That data later helped engineers devise water-pressure boosters, such as those used in airplane plumbing, as well as significantly trim water use. That meant environmentally friendlier apartments and hotels for all. It’s even said Big John contributed expertise to the plumbing design for the World Trade Center’s original twin towers.
The project eventually came to an end. But even after the flushes slowed to a trickle and then ceased, the structure's altitude and waterfront location continued to prove useful. Stevens physicists used it for various laser tests, and the Department of Homeland Security used it as a site from which to help monitor the flow of mock contaminant gases puffed into the air in Manhattan.
The structure was eventually razed in 2010. No plaque marks the spot. But Big John, though standing no more, remains in the memories of those who knew it.