Why Am I Building Such a Weird Bathroom?

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Villa Savoye sink

In a recent post, How many bathrooms do you need in a house? there was a discussion about how separating the toilet from the rest of the bathroom made sense, not only for health reasons but also how it let more people use the separate components of the bathroom at the same time. That's the way it was often done in Europe and older houses (like mine, built a hundred years ago) and how it was done in Japan.

In the first house I designed for myself, I put the sink in the hall. It took up less space, let one share the bathroom, and I was emulating Le Corbusier, who famously had a sink in the hall at the Villa Savoye. I tried to convince Graham Hill to do it in his LifeEdited programme, not only for the practicality but for the biblical references going back to going back to Abraham, and Jesus's washing of the feet of his disciples. Graham wasn't impressed.

Jesus washing Peter's feet

Tate Gallery/ Jesus washing Peter's feet/ Ford Madox Brown/Public DomainCorb was also, like so many architects at the time, obsessed with cleanliness. They understood germ theory but didn't have antibiotics, so they designed it like they would a hospital. (see also Pierre Chareau's Maison de Verre)

Thome Plan

Workshop Architecture/CC BY 2.0

Now I am significantly downsizing my house, moving into the ground floor and basement while renting out the upper floors; the best way to reduce my particular carbon footprint isn't to wrap my old house in foam but to simply use less of it. I could also downsize the bathroom as well, but working with David Colussi of Workshop Architecture, we are going in a different direction. In my series on the history of the bathroom, I explained how we ended up with the standard today in Putting plumbing before people:

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. In a typical western bathroom, [functions] all take place in a machine designed by engineers on the basis of the plumbing system, not human needs.

1. I am separating all of the functions.

closup of bathroom

© Workshop Architecture

The toilet with bidet seat gets its own room, the WC. The toilet should never be in the same room as the sink; as I have noted before, coliform bacteria can spread every time you flush and land on your toothbrush. This isn't sanitary and it makes no sense to put them in the same room, other than for the convenience of the plumber.

2. The sink is in the hall.

The sink should always be accessible; hand washing is a critical part of keeping healthy. It should be as easy to use as possible. It is also in the dressing area, what they call in Japan the Datsuiba, described by Bruce Smith and Yoshiko Yamomoto in the Japanese Bath as

a comfortable space for taking off one's clothes and for drying off and putting on fresh clothes after the bath. it is a transition space between the watery world of the bath and the dry world of the house.
japanesese shower design photo

3. The shower is not in the bathtub but in the space beside it.

In the Japanese bath, one sits on a stool and uses a bucket or a hand shower before you get in the tub. It's a wonderful experience. I happen to love a bath and couldn't live without one, but consider showers in the tub to be dangerous and constricted. By keeping it separate, I get to shower on a non-slip tile floor or sit on a stool like I did in Japan. Other than the floor drain, it doesn't cost any more in plumbing to do it this way; I am just not lining the spout and the diverter and shower head vertically but putting the spout over the tub, the controls in the middle and the shower in the shower section.

shower walls

© Workshop Architecture

Isn't this taking up a lot of space in a tiny apartment?

No. I needed the hall anyway, and the tub and toilet area is bigger than a traditional bathroom by the thickness of the wall that separates them.

credit: Lloyd Alter/ Under construction

Lloyd Alter/ Under construction/CC BY 2.0

I was going to wait until we were a little further along before I showed any photos, but here it is, all lovely FSC certified lumber framing the rooms. More to come.

Meanwhile, here is my History of the Bathroom in eight parts.