Re-Thinking the Bathroom: Who Needs It?


Image Credit: Architypes
TreeHugger founder Graham Hill is trying to radically reduce his footprint and live happily with less space, less stuff and less waste on less money, but with more design. He calls it "LifeEdited."
Have you submitted an idea to the LIfeEdited project?
One of the interesting design challenges is figuring out how to design an efficient, but practical bathroom. We shouldn't limit ourselves to cramming the shower, tub, sink and toilet all in the same space.

When you walk into Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, perhaps the most influential house of the twentieth century, what is the first thing that you see? A sink. It is a biblical reference, going back to Abraham and Jesus's washing of the feet of his disciples. But it also makes a lot of sense; when you come home (or greet guests) washing up is one of the first things that you do.
Ford Maddox Brown Jesus Washing Peter's Feet 1852-6 Tate

We don't wear sandals anymore, so the cleaning of our feet is not as important. But washing our hands certainly is. So is hospitality. So why do we send everyone off to a tiny room with a toilet in it? It is an accident of history. After piped water became common, architects had to adapt to it. I wrote in an essay about the history of the bathroom:

The engineers gave us a water supply and a waste disposal system, so logic dictates that you should put all this new stuff together in one place, say a conversion of a bedroom into a new wet room serviced by this technology. Nobody seriously paused to think about the different functions and their needs; they just took the position that if water comes in and water goes out, it is all pretty much the same and should be in the same room.

But it is not at all the same.

Bathing is different than shitting. Shitting is different from peeing. You can make the case that showering is different than having a bath and that brushing one's teeth is another thing altogether. But in a typical western bathroom, they all take place in a machine designed by engineers on the basis of the plumbing system, not human needs. The result is a toxic output of contaminated water, questionable air quality and incredible waste.

And we are still doing it; look at the plan submitted for Graham's bathroom.

How tightly can you pack all these functions into a single tiny space? This is an apartment, not a recreational vehicle. But more importantly, these functions do not belong together, and do not all require such privacy. Toilets, because of smells, noise and convention, perhaps do. Also because of cleanliness; tests have shown that a toothbrush kept in the same room as a toilet gets contaminated easily:

There have been found over 3.2 million microbes per square inch in the average toilet bowl. According to germ expert Chuck Gerba, PhD, a professor of environmental microbiology at University of Arizona the aerosolized toilet water is propelled as far as 6 feet, settling on your dental toothbrush inclusively.

I personally have not lived in a home with the sink in the same room as the toilet since I owned my first home; it is the first thing I changed whenever I renovated.

Furthermore, bathing can be social and fun and doesn't have to be hidden away. Sinks and showers deserve better.

I think the existing toilet is actually in a fine location. It has a bit of window, it is in a tiny little closet and moving it and the associated plumbing is really expensive.


Image credit: Lloyd Alter

Bodies aren't the only thing that need washing, either. In Toronto architect and crazed cyclist Martin Kohn's house, he built a special washing area for his bikes. He had a bit more room that Graham has, but if you can wash a bike you can wash a body.

I propose putting the sink right at the entry, the first thing you pass. It is on a raised perforated deck where you can wash yourself, your bike, your dog, whatever. The toilet is kept where it is (raised up to the new deck level) and the kitchen is built behind. (just a quick preliminary sketch of it, have not thought about it much yet)

Bathing is not evil and smelly, in our culture, only going to the toilet is. So open it all up, let it all hang out and just put the toilet in its little room. That is my free idea for LifeEdited for the day.

What's Your Idea for Re-Thinking the Bathroom?
Do you have an idea for how to better incorporate a sink, shower or toilet into a small apartment? Jot your idea down - use a napkin if you want! - and submit your idea to LifeEdited.

More on Bathrooms
Why Do Showers Point Down Instead of Up?
Men: Pee And Wash In The Same Fixture!
Caroma Makes A Toilet With Sink Look Elegant

Tags: Bathrooms | LifeEdited