Flush With Beauty: A Designer Public Restroom in Japan

James Bartolacci James Bartolacci

What do you think of when you hear the words “public toilet?” Off-white tiles that were selected to minimize costs? Damp floors that never seem to dry? The subtle smell of Lysol? Stalin-era toilet paper? Whatever disturbing images these words may trigger, most will agree that public restrooms are cringe-worthy — and usually lacking in good design. However, when Daigo Ishii + Future-scape Architects were commissioned to design a restroom in Ibuki-shima, Japan, the design team reimagined the often frowned-upon typology as a way to revitalize a community.

Located on an isolated island, the municipality asked for a building that espoused novelty so as to attract the tourists’ attention. Daigo Ishii’s distinct design for the House of Toilet simplifies the typical pitched-roof style of homes surrounding the structure, and intersects the plan with six voids.

Like an architectural compass, each slit indicates the direction of a major city on each continent— except for Antarctica of course —establishing a connection between the island and the rest of the world.

Furthermore, Ishii sought to mark the toilet’s larger presence in the cosmos (we’re serious). The voids are also oriented to the location of the sun at 9:00 am on the day of three traditional ceremonies, as well as the summer and winter solstices, allowing meticulously calculated light to enter into the building and illuminate its interiors.

The materials chosen for the design also help maintain a close relationship with the island’s locality. Black burnt cedar board echoes the colors and textures of local houses, making visitors conscious of the island’s identity.

A series of alleys divide the building into individual “houses” each with its own toilet. Polycarbonate sheets cladding the alleys reflect the scenery of the island, merging the structure with its context.

An ocular void functions as a device to collect rainwater for the facilities and allow the sky to pass into the structure. With its specific orientation, careful selection of materials, and consciousness of location, the House of Toilet is so much more than a place to relieve oneself.