Toilets form a major part of community living in the urban context. However, they lack basic hygiene and sanitation policies. The problem has reached an extent that the word “UNCLEAN” is automatically associated with the Indian public toilet scenario, and the stigma has reached a certain level of acceptance in various communities as well. 

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As a densely populated developing country, India faces a huge problem of health and wellbeing amongst its people; and rectifying public toilet situations can result in decreasing the diseases breeding in the community. The paper focuses on the sustainable, aesthetical, and functional factors of what exists, what can be changed in the pre-existing structure, and what needs to be incorporated in the design of future toilet modules. It aims at helping toilets to become the pride of the city instead of a degradation factor. 

These parameters also vary based on the social, economic, climatological, topographical, and political context.

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TaiKoo Hui Sustainable Toilet_©Ida&Billy Architects

The economical context plays a major role in the material and type of construction of the module as well as its maintenance costs. The social context is categorized into psychological and behavioral traits and stressors that a community faces. Public toilets play an important role in this as using a toilet is an intimate affair and hence maintenance of public toilets is important. Also, the ways of use of men and women are varied and hence the same space is utilized differently by both. The location of the toilet is also another factor of discussion as too far away and too close, both create a problem. Toilets are usually kept in isolation. 

However, after considering all the above factors, one factor which always gets missed is the AESTHETICS of the toilets. For ease of construction and poor financial investments, a module is created for a unit of a toilet that is repeated throughout the city or demarcated area irrespective of the locality and the context it is placed in. The people then associate this module with the stigma of unclean toilets.

Aesthetics, by definition, is a set of principles dealing with or concerned with the concept of beauty. Beauty, on the other hand, is an individualistic concept however there are factors of perception which remain common for everybody. When it comes to toilet design, aesthetics plays an equally important role. It has the power to affect the use or misuse of toilets. Various factors in different permutations and combinations, depending on the local context of the toilet, can compel its user to feel a sense of ownership and hence maintain it.

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1. Colour Psychology

The perception of the human brain to certain colors, depending on cultural and circumstantial factors and hence affecting the behavior of the human is called color psychology. Colors are a form of nonverbal communication and are also associated with the mind and body concept.

Dark colors and light colors have different effects when it comes to toilet design. While lighter colors are better for maintaining the cleanliness aspect of it, darker colors can create drama and are perceived as classy and sophisticated. Considering the above factors, the fixtures, WCs and WBs can be of lighter shades and the finishes used for flooring and walls can be of darker colors that complement the fixtures used.

Colors also define the difference in the internal and external experiences of the toilet. While the above mentioned solution can be utilized for the interiors of the toilet, the exteriors of the toilet can have bright colors that attract attention as compared to its surroundings. Considering modern constructions, bright colors stand out against the monotonous greys and whites.

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Public Toilets, Uster, Switzerland _©Gramazio & Kohler

2. Structural Form

The structural form of a toilet unit is that consideration that has the potential to be that one Unique factor. While a toilet is a service-oriented block, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a case of function over form. Most toilet units today come from one prototype cuboidal unit which blends in with the context around it. Because the unit is common everywhere, a mental association of lack of maintenance is made with it.

An out of ordinary, yet contextually appealing form doesn’t just enhance the streetscape but also breaks the stigma attached to toilets. This stand-out feature can be achieved by using different materials, colors, and finishes.

Another question that arises during toilet design is whether the function rules or the form rules. In this case, both should go hand in hand. The functional aspect takes care of the services while the form plays a role in creating a mindset of curiosity and even ownership (in some cases) in its users.

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Hiroshima Park Restrooms_© Future Studio

3. Indulging the Senses

Any space or structure is aesthetically appealing to the users when their senses are stimulated without overpowering the line of thought required by that space. Similarly, a toilet also needs to positively indulge the senses of the users.

The very first sense that needs positive stimulation is the sense of vision. The very basic and first judgment about space is passed based on what you see. This sense decides whether the toilet unit is usable. Colors and textures, internal as well as external, define the visual perception in the user’s mind.

Nasal sense plays an equally important role in the perception that is formed about the toilet. A pleasant smell is always more welcoming than a smell induced due to lack of cleanliness and maintenance. A factor for indulging this sense is the location of the toilet. Measures should be taken to have clean smelling toilets if they are located in a comparatively unpleasant context. 

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Trail Restroom, Austin, Texas_© Paul Finkel/Piston Design, Miro Rivera Architects

4. Users

Defining the user automatically sets some basic factors of consideration for designing. The demographics (age, anthropometric factors, and gender) of the users also play an important role. Men and women have different requirements in a toilet. Similarly, what appeals to them also differs. The choice in colors, textures, and volumes contrasts at times. This is determined by the cultural as well as circumstantial differences. They cannot be designed like each other nor alongside each other. Apart from that, special needs (diapers, sanitary pads, tissues, etc.) also need to be considered and implemented for the unit to be an aesthetically successful design.

Another very important factor that often gets missed is the consideration for universal design. Universal design doesn’t just include design aspects for the handicapped, but it also means designing for people who have different needs. E.g.: small girls, senior citizens, pregnant women, etc.

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Centennial Park Amenities, Sydney, Australia_© Brett Baordman, Lahz Nimmo Architects

5. Materials

Aesthetically appealing doesn’t necessarily mean using expensive, fancy materials. Sophistication and beauty can be achieved by using common and basic materials with appropriate detailing too.

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Materials used can also be sustainable hence increasing the longevity of the toilet and still yet decreasing the embodied energy which is constantly growing due to rapid development.

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Roadside Reststop Akkarvikodden, Norway_© Paul Warchol, Manthey Kula Architects

6. Waste Management

When the question of toilet aesthetics arises, management and disposal of waste in the right manner becomes an important factor. This is the leading cause of lack of hygiene and cleanliness. Placement of the services should be such that they are hidden from vision and even then, functioning properly. Disposal of this waste is equally important. 

Taking it out of the structure without littering its immediate surroundings greatly affects the aesthetics of the toilet. If waste generated from the toilet is visible it not only affects the perception of the user but also increases the risk of lack of hygiene and healthcare in the community. One of the possible options is having inbuilt waste management systems like dry toilets and composting pits.

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Waterless toilet system turns waste into electricity and fertiliser_© LooWatt

7. Light and Ventilation

A stark difference is seen between the perceptions in the case of natural circumstances as compared to artificial ones. The placement of these fixtures also plays an equally important role.

Natural lighting makes the toilet more psychologically comfortable and plays an important role in keeping the toilets healthy. Artificial lighting can be used for late hours. However, if they are used during day time, they give a sense of seclusion and isolation.

Natural ventilation is important in taking out the foul smell which persists in a toilet. It also aerates the entire toilet unit. Lack of natural ventilation gives a sense of being enclosed in an uncomfortable or small space. Artificial ventilation creates a variation in the air pressures outside and inside it which also gives a sense of discomfort to its user. 

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Wembley WCs, London _©Gort Scott

All the above-mentioned factors have an individualistic side to them as well based on the circumstances and culture they belong to. These factors affect the context provided for design. All the factors don’t imply the same thing everywhere. Another aspect to it is not all factors should be applied everywhere.it should depend on the community for whom the provision is made.

However, keeping all this in mind, toilets need not just be service-oriented elements. Beautifying the functionality of it can drastically change the outlook of outsiders towards the building, community, city, state, or country. Beautiful toilets make a statement about the overall lifestyle of the community surrounding them since using a toilet is such an intimate affair.

Hence, a toilet should not be hidden away or disregarded but rather can be a symbol for a perfect blend of beauty and functionality.

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Author

Designing for change has always been an aspiration. This is me doing the same through words. My interests in the field include Research, Sustainable strategies and Urban design and hope to work on similar lines in the future.

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