“Inviting” and “appealing” aren’t exactly words typically associated with public restrooms. In an effort to change that perception, a Japanese architecture firm has created brightly colored, transparent restrooms for two of Tokyo’s busiest parks, turning commodes into full-fledged works of art.
Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning company Shigeru Ban Architects, the two sets of glass-walled restrooms are part of the Tokyo Toilet Project, an initiative launched by the Nippon Foundation to increase public restroom use by dispelling stereotypes that they are “dark, dirty, smelly, and scary.” The new see-through lavatories, which become opaque when locked, were designed to address these specific issues. “There are two things we worry about when entering a public restroom, especially those located at a park. This first is cleanliness, and the second is whether anyone is inside,” the architects explain on the project website.
The transparent walls allow passers-by to judge the tidiness of the toilets without even entering. They also make it obvious if the facilities are in use or not. When a bathroom stall is locked, crystals in the tinted glass are realigned by an electric current, restricting most of the light from passing through. This creates a frosted look, giving the occupants sufficient privacy. As soon as the door is unlocked, the walls become transparent again.
“When Japan succeeded to host the Olympic and Paralympic 2020, the word ‘omotenashi’ (a Japanese word that means to wholeheartedly look after guests) was repeatedly presented as the symbol of Japanese hospitailty,” said Mihoko Ueki, project coordinator for the Nippon Foundation’s social innovation team, in a recent interview.
“However, if you take a look at the public toilets, most of them are not accessible for everyone regardless of gender, age, or disability. Considering that, we thought that we [could not truly] show the guests from overseas ‘omotenashi’ as the symbol of Japanese hospitality.”
According to a government survey, up until 2016, 40 percent of Japan’s public restrooms only had squat stalls, requiring trucks to suck out waste and dispose of it elsewhere. Since then, 332 public facilities have been refurbished with more modern, hygienic toilets.