Ever Changing Bathroom Design and the Evolution of Human Functions

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….

…when we were leaving college… in 1980’s London there was a building project that led the world in design and innovation. With prefabricated bathrooms, external services and a radical design that made it an iconic landmark in the City of London.

This building was started in 1978 and finished in 1986. The Lloyds Building in London still stands as a great example of modern technology in construction. Part prefabricated, flexible wall locations, environmentally advanced for it’s time.

Not bad for 30 years ago.

It is the youngest heritage listed building in the UK. When someone says prefab is new; show them a photo of the Lloyds Building.

So, as budding under-graduates eager to follow new trends we went to a seminar by the Rogers’ design team. They posed a question that we have never forgotten.

“Why design different toilets and bathrooms for every project?”

They are the same function. They provide the same amenity. Why spend paid time redesigning them?

Standing ovations all around. Well done to those Roger’s architects.

The bathroom, toilet, wc, powder room – whatever the name for it – is based around human function. Human function doesn’t change that fast but we still have to spend paid time re-designing the bathrooms differently for every project. Why is that?

Remember the Star Wars canteen? Everyone needs to eat and everyone needs the toilet.

Some designers and particularly developers have seen the light. Since the 1990’s, budget hotels, across a range of brands, all use the same layout designs – they also, in some countries, are all prefabricated. Some of them even used the same bathroom with a different coloured feature tile.

In aged care and health infrastructure the function of bathrooms determines designs which very similar bar a few ridiculous exceptions (you know who you are!). Aged care is about maintenance and that has made design more effective through end user design input.

However, with large scale residential apartments, site constraints and lifestyle requirements will drive the overall apartment layouts in plan but should the bathrooms be different?

Effectively costed buildings are designed from the ground up with an efficient sub-structure effecting the super-structure. After all, most potential risk is in the ground. All well and good but it damages efficiency in the more valuable (or costly) parts of the building.

Why does a garbage truck turning circle have to change the shape of the bathrooms? (Honestly – we have a project in at the moment where this is a real issue!).

We are working with residential developers to streamline wetroom design at the pre-planning stage to ensure the efficiency of the building isn’t driven by the basement design or car parking layouts.

Designing buildings around simple templates allow structures, services and coordination to be more simple and repetitive. If you are in control of the design from the beginning you are in control of the outcomes.

Recently, over a large development business we have narrowed the number of bathrooms across 9-10 projects to five different layouts.

There are three finish types, one choice of WC pan, two choices of basin and some flexibility in fixtures. That includes shower and/or bath options.

5 layouts. 5 types. 3500 bathrooms. One customer.

It wasn’t hard to achieve when you have a client pushing from behind.

Multiple design teams with multiple site layouts but with one (determined) customer.

There was almost no push back once the design teams saw the advantages to their workload. The customer drove the arguments about finishes – and they were already there with standardised colours and ceramics.

There were a couple of projects where it didn’t fit initially, or pre-sales had determined more extravagant finishes, but when the scale of the standard designs became apparent the smaller scale specials became considerably cheaper.

Wow. Mass customization in high volume prefabrication.

Whilst our German prefabricated wetrooms are still demonstrably cheaper than site built bathrooms the scale of production adds even more benefit – even before soft savings (see previous post).

That means there is no argument or hand wringing over whether to use offsite or not. That means more volume.

Achieving Buckmeister Fuller’s nirvana of ephemeralization is a distinct possibility – doing more and more with less and less until you do everything with nothing.

The moral of today’s sermon?

The way humans use the toilet won’t change so why not design them (the toilets) all the same?

Design them the same and turn them into a commodity.

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