Saturday, 10 July 2010

Talking crap

I've been accused of this many times, but this time i'm doing it deliberately...

Toilets are funny things, i have no idea if it's different in other cultures, but here in the west we're still a bit embarrassed about it all. As such it's an area of design that really hasn't progressed very much (I know Toto are doing interesting things in Japan though) so i will probably return to it on a number of occasions.

There are few things in life more satisfying than taking a well-needed dump in the privacy of your own toilet. You know this is true.
Now compare this to the horror of those situations where you absolutely-cannot-possibly-avoid having to use a public toilet. Especially ones at any kind of transport interchange.
Slightly less unpleasant are the loos at work. There's probably a multi-point sliding scale that could be derived, but that's not the point of this post.

This post is about a change of architectural approach and the installation of some simple technology.

Let's talk architecture first; it's an area of design that likes to consider itself cutting edge, right up until you get to the toilets. They may have a swish new sink or a funky Dyson airblade but chances are, on the other side of the room, is the usual grim array of stalls.
I recently started working in a new office block, and there the architect has made a fantastic decision. Instead of one large room with a number of toilet stalls, half that number of sinks and only one hand-dryer (why do people always seem to think that that is an acceptable ratio?) the architect chose to put in 6 small, individual rooms off a short, central corridor. Proper rooms with proper doors and walls. They each have their own wash-basin and hand dryer as well.
The whole toilet experience is much more pleasant; perhaps this is why they appear to be better looked after by the staff as well?

"But wait!" You may be thinking, "surely that takes up much more floorspace? And surely small rooms retain the previous occupant's odour for a much longer time?"
Both of these are good questions, let's look at them one at a time.
Floor space. For the benefit of the regular office moves my company publishes floor plans of all our buildings. Using these i have been able to work out that, on a like-number-of-stalls basis, the individual room approach takes up only a fraction more space. It could easily be made to take up the same amount of space with just a small (read negligible) reduction in individual room space.
And what of the whiff? Well now, this is one area where it does appear to fall down. Despite each room having its own extraction duct it can be an unpleasant experience to step into a frequently occupied and heavily used room.
And that's where the simple technology comes in.

Toilet timers. I shit you not.*
Have display above each toilet door showing the time since the room was last vacated. Link the timer to the lock so that it reset when the door was unlocked and that way anyone entering the corridor can take a quick look around and see which room has the longest period of absence (and thus the highest chance of fresh air).

You may snigger at such a suggestion, but that is just our western embarrassment coming to the fore again. Ask yourself what other scenario would it be considered to expose yourself or others to aerosolised human faeces?
If you can think of an example i don't want to come to any of your parties.

So, individual rooms, with timers. Taking a dump at work could be as relaxing as doing so at home. Just don't install a magazine rack or your productivity could take a huge hit.

* Did you really think i was going to let you get through this without that joke coming in somewhere?

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