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Toilet Architecture: Modernity, Technology and Psychology

By EM on November 19, 2014 in Exhibitions, TOTO
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During September’s London Design Festival, TOTO staged a highly topical debate on the subject of Toilet Architecture. Guest speakers were invited to explore the social, ethical, environmental and architectural elements of the toilet and bathroom experience from the broadest possible perspective. Leading architects Jay Gort and Roz Barr participated alongside academics and editors, including special guest Tomas Klassnik who approached the theme with a specific emphasis on modernity, technology and psychology.

Tomas’s presentation began by establishing his view that although practical, toilets and bathrooms embody a set of very interesting social constructs. Though being a very real human necessity, toilets actually didn’t find their way into the fabric of our homes and into the future of domestic architecture until around 1775. Alexander Cumming’s invention of the S trap (that helped banish foul smells) went some way to enabling this new phenomenon.

Continuing within an historical context, Tomas moved onto the Great Exhibition of 1851 by highlighting how toilets were represented as ‘technological innovations’, becoming one of the key attractions of the fair. The WC’s development continued throughout the decades beyond the introduction of our modern-day basic flush system. Through key images, Tomas cleverly showcased toilet seat designs that have challenged our notion of the standard seated WC. For example, he included Alexander Kira’s proposed design. Resembling a very low level squat, the structure was designed according to Kira’s understanding of the position that would suit best suit the anatomy of the human body. Following this, Tomas allowed sometime for reflection on from George Jennings, the man who invented the flush: “The civilisation of a people can be measured by their domestic and sanitary appliances”.

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Tomas then moved onto discussing the psychology of the private space within the bathroom or cubicle. He brought up the intriguing symbolism of the lock and its role as an active device found within a domestic environment. Although used infrequently within a typical home setting, as a device it does represent separateness, encasing us behind solid walls to create a second other world. In a recent project, Tomas explored this topic in great detail. Through a curated installation piece located in Cambridge, he covered the floor of a toilet with autumn leaves – unusually bringing the outside world in – the bathroom was repositioned as a space outside the real world. Well known filmmaker Luis Bunuel tackled this pre-conception further in one of his films whereby he challenged the social context of our bodily functions by bringing the toilet to the dining table, and banning the act of eating to solitude. Tomas played on this further in a witty commentary “Desktopolis” whereby the toilet is integrated into the architecture completely creating a self contained ecosystem of waste production and consumption.

Intending to leave the audience re-analysing his or her own perception of the bathrooms they frequent daily, Tomas finished his presentation with an image of Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, in which Bernini sculpts folds of material from marble. He drew a direct comparison with the porcelain toilet bowl and its ability to produce an incredible range of form and geometry, which in itself should go some way to future reinterpretations of the toilet as we know it.