The World's Strangest Bathrooms
Bathrooms, whether public or private, encounter plenty of abuse. The constant inflow and outflow of water paired with limited space and high demands on hygiene and efficiency make it one of the most difficult rooms to design. But there are plenty of architects who have stepped up to the challenge. Here are some of the most innovative bathroom engineering in the world.
Location /// International Space Station
Background: With no gravity to ensure that water stays in the toilet bowl or to force waste down, NASA was forced to build pumps and harness airflow to create an effective and hygienic bathroom for astronauts.
Why It's Unique: Because the entire system relies on air, creating a tight seal between the user and the toilet bowl is essential. Foot straps and pivoting bars anchor the astronauts to the ground, and an intricate network of tubes, pipes and ducts handles the waste. Far removed from water treatment plants, the ISS must treat waste on its own and actually converts a large percentage into potable water. A hose-suction option is also available in lieu of the main toilet bowl.
World's Largest Restroom
Location /// Chongqing, China
Background: With 1000 toilets, 32,290 square feet, and four stories, this bathroom is the largest in the world.
Why It's Unique: Located on Yangrenjie ("Foreigners Street"), China hopes that its colossal Egyptian-themed restroom will bring tourism to the city. Aside from its enormous size, the bathroom also features calm music, TVs and interestingly shaped urinals. Lu Xiaoqing, a tourism official, expects the bathrooms to be a hit among visitors: "After they use the bathroom they will be very, very happy."
Vertebrae Vertical Bathroom
Location /// Various
Background: Occupying a mere 4.3 square feet, this "Swiss Army Knife Bathroom" takes space conservation to a whole new level, packing a toilet, sink, cistern, two storage units and two shower heads into one compact system.
Why It's Unique: Named for its resemblance to the spinal cord, the bathroom's modules all connect to a central axis. Everything feeds from the top of the structure, which attaches to the ceiling. Users have the option of directing the waste pipes downward through a hole in the floor, or into the wall through a hole at the back of the toilet. To enable shower drainage, the Vertebrae must be installed in a sealed wet room with adequate slope to the floor, according to the brochure. "Real estate is priceless in the bathroom," says Judith Balis, an interior designer with experience constructing restrooms.
Location /// Beijing, China
Background: The 15-ton, $100,000 public bathroom in Zhong GuanVillage Plaza may be the safest in the world.
Why It's Unique: Immune even to TNT explosives detonated from within, this bunker of a bathroom is part of a string of anti-terrorism products debuted in China after 9/11. For the Chinese, the bathroom isn't much of a draw. Originally, usage instructions posted outside were in only English and French, but even after adding a Chinese translation in 2006, the toilet remains unpopular.
The Floating Bathroom
Location /// Lake Powell, UT/AZ
Background: Out of concern over lake-goers using the open water as a bathroom instead of trekking to shore, some caretakers of lakes are opting to install floating restrooms in order to protect the water and land from contamination.
Why It's Unique: Besides expense (a lake bathroom can cost upwards of $100,000 to install), unsightliness is the biggest obstacle to be surmounted when building a lake-friendly bathroom. One of the first floating bathrooms was installed in California's Lake Natoma, and lived a very short life after a multitude of complaints mandated its removal. Balis agrees: "I understand the need for keeping human waste and pollution down in our national parks, but this takes it a bit too far and detracts from the beauty of the very environment we are trying to protect."
Location /// Akashi, Japan
Background: Like many beach-side bathrooms, the Mumin Papa Cafe is decorated with deep-sea creatures. But the live three-wall aquarium enveloping the stall one-ups standard wallpaper by a large margin.
Why It's Unique: The underwater restroom cost $270,000 to build and is ladies-only, except for the giant sea turtle swimming around. The surrounding aquarium was designed to mimic the feeling of relieving yourself while swimming in the ocean.
Urban Ecology Center
Location /// Milwaukee, WI
Background: Nothing but rainwater flushes the toilets here, all electricity is solar-powered, soap is biodegradable and paper products are 100 percent recyclable. Even the paint on the wall is made out of organic compounds.
Why It's Unique: Balis calls this bathroom "brilliant," and a "win-win situation for everyone," including the worms after a certain percentage of paper towels have been used, they're soaked in water and fed to the composting critters living at the center. The soil produced by the worms goes on to become a home for the 1000 plants the Ecology Center sows each year. Urinals don't flush but are equipped with odor-proof oil that neutralizes undesirable smells before they can spread. This strategy, among others, contributes to an annual savings of 450,000 gallons of water.
South Pole Urinal
Location /// Antarctica
Background: This urinal was constructed just 350 meters from the geographic South Pole, and drifts 10 meters closer to the pole every year. Now that's an impressive piece of plumbing.
Why It's Unique: Chris Curtis, the photographer of this picture, says that this urinal "marks an elusive destination and goal that was not able to even be reached until the early 1900s and carries with it the suffering and the loss of life of several explorers; and one that is at a place that is not only off the beaten path but literally 'miles from nowhere' ... in fact, no other urinal in the world or even space can compete with the efforts and loss of life that went into [this fixture's] eventual permanence at the South Pole. What it may lack in beauty it more than makes up for in dignity." Hear, hear.
Location /// Various
Background: This modern bathroom conceals a washbasin, toilet and shower tray beneath folding wooden shelves and benches, enabling a sleek transformation from bathroom to multipurpose room.
Why It's Unique: Though the designers say the wooden coverups add elegance, Balis says they're simply unnecessary. "You can put the most beautiful shade of lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. You're really not fooling anyone." Purportedly, the bathroom could be installed on one wall of a larger room (such as a living room) or in a very small space so as to enable a more flexible house design process without sacrificing sophistication.
Location /// McMurdo Station, Central West Antarctica
Background: In a place where humans attempt to make no environmental impact, waste must be handled carefully.
Why It's Unique: Normally, people in Antarctica walk around with bottles for collecting urine, and then empty the day's contents into a bigger drum called a "U drum." Outhouses are for solid waste only, and contain a five-gallon plastic bucket lined with a plastic bag. After the bucket's been filled, it's sealed, placed on a pallet, and shipped off. Arctic outhouses are said to be mostly aroma-free, and the sturdily built units make for a temporary respite from cold and wind.
Location /// Various
Background: Taking "streamlined" to a whole new level, these combined-function Ebb designs make for a modern, almost futuristic bathroom.
Why It's Unique: Balis calls the Ebb bathroom "fabulous, both visually and functionally." The main building material for the fixtures in this bathroom, which was designed by UsTogether, a British and Irish group, is LG HI-MACS, a natural acrylic stone made out of aluminum hydroxide. The material improves impact strength, heat and scratch resistance, visual homogeneity, and thermoplastic moldability over mainstay bathroom materials such as marble, granite and glass.
Dolce and Gabbana's Gold Room
Location /// Milan, Italy
Background: Part of an A-list restaurant simply named "Gold," this opulent bathroom has been host to several stars such as Giselle, Kylie Minogue and Paris Hilton.
Why It's Unique: "It's the little luxuries we allow ourselves that probably come into play in the bathroom more than anywhere else," Balis says. Indeed, the bathroom is luxurious, with golden bamboo lining the walls, giant mirrors and marble counters; Dolce and Gabbana stays true to its high-end name. The clincher is the constant loop of Goldfinger playing inside every golden stall on plasma screens.
Location /// Milwaukee, WI
Background: This spy-themed restaurant involves passwords, hidden rooms and disappearing ink—and the theme continues on into its bathroom. To enter, users must navigate through a series of complicated mazes and avoid a trick door.
Why It's Unique: "The bathrooms in restaurants are statement pieces," Balis says. Ever since Safe House opened in 1966, it has been using every aspect of the restaurant under its control to advance the secret-agent atmosphere. The harrowing journey to the bathroom serves as another adventurous addition, at least to those willing to endure a 15-minute sojourn from table to toilet.
Location /// New York City
Background: The bar's bathroom doors use liquid crystals to selectively turn opaque when the customer enters and closes the stall.
Why It's Unique: The crystal innovation in this stall is called Privacy Glass, which harnesses light diffusion in order to create privacy while still allowing light to enter. The sheet of liquid crystal is sandwiched between two normal panes of glass, and the molecular array of the crystals is naturally random enough to disperse light, creating privacy. But when voltage is applied to the sheet, the crystals arrange themselves into a neat parallel formation that permits the passage of light, making the bathroom door transparent.
UriLift Public Pop-Up Toilet
Location /// Various
Background: A bold move to hamper alcohol-induced nighttime public urination, the semi-permanent Urilift Pop-Up Urinal emerges at 10 pm and disappears at 3 am, coinciding with prime bar-hopping hours.
Why It's Unique: These misdemeanor-fighting urinals cost $70,000 each; the unit consists of three adjoining 6-foot-tall stalls. The urinals connect to main water lines in order to flush away waste, and pipes lead directly into the underground sewage system. The alcoves lack much privacy (there are no doors), but users don't seem to take issue with that triviality. The toilets recede into the ground during the day in order to avoid obstructing traffic, and police are pleased with the installments so far, noting a reduction in arrests, fines and aggressive behavior following the installation.
Jungle Jim's Bathroom
Location /// Fairfield, OH
Background: What at first appears to be an outhouse gives way to a corridor, leading not into a dingy stall but to a large and well-maintained bathroom.
Why It's Unique: This fake-out bathroom is part of a large, 300,000-square-foot supermarket, making it one luxurious port-a-potty. Balis views the addition of this bathroom as a good marketing strategy: "Even silly things make a statement. If you create something that's interesting or a little over the top or a little silly, it's going to get people's attention and they're going to want to check it out. All press is good press. The more over-the-top the better."
Location /// Seattle, WA
Background: The bathrooms at Columbia Tower are some of the tallest in the world, and each 76th-floor stall has its own view of the Seattle skyline.
Why It's Unique: "The bathroom can really be an adventure," says Barbara Fiume, a designer for New York Kitchen and Bath. Every facility is thinking, "What's going to be my pop? There's no more cold, bland look as your only possibility dealing with the commercial or public bathroom." Aside from the stunning view, each stall has marble floors, marble counters and solid brass fixtures and contains its own sink. Although the bathroom is technically women-only (Columbia Tower likes to think of the restroom as a "tranquil escape for any woman's busy day"), it acquires frequent male visitors eager to check out the view.
Location /// Basel, Switzerland
Background: This one-way glass stall looks like a mirror to an outsider, but completely transparent to an insider, leading to a nerve-wracking bathroom experience.
Why It's Unique: The bathroom was designed by artist Monica Bonvicini, who enjoys delving into public versus private life in her exhibitions. This piece is entitled "Don't Miss a Sec," and was inspired by her viewers' reluctance to use the bathroom during art shows, fearing they might miss out on something important. One-way mirrors work their magic by having one side painted with a very thin reflective coating, then strategically adjusting lighting. For the outside to look like a mirror, it must be very bright so that the mirror's surface has plenty to reflect. The inside must be kept dark so that light can't pass through the glass. If the placement of light is switched, however, the walls become windows and your business becomes everyone's business.