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Redefining transparency: Tokyo's new bathrooms upgrade public facilities

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

By Bertina Fan, Miranda Lu, and Pavana Upadhyaya Sep. 22, 2020

Beomhee Kim Art


In August, two public parks in Tokyo’s Shibuya district received a new addition—a row of colorful, transparent restrooms. The unique facilities were designed by renowned Japanese architect Shigeru Ban as part of THE TOKYO TOILET project. Launched by the Nippon Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Japan, the project aims to minimize worries about cleanliness and privacy associated with using public restrooms.

The new restrooms address both of these concerns. An electrical current runs through the glass walls, allowing them to stay transparent. This feature is especially appealing to users because it allows them to check the bathroom’s cleanliness. The transparent walls also allow people to check whether the bathroom is clean or not.

An electrical current runs through the glass walls, allowing them to stay transparent.

When someone steps inside and locks the door, the current stops and a film makes the glass become opaque, offering privacy and notifying people that the stall is occupied. The colorful bathrooms also light up at night and brighten the surrounding area—another one of the facilities’ special functions.

Although the restrooms may dispel concerns and offer opportunities for aesthetic photos, the public has had mixed reactions about their installation. On social media, some commented on how colorful and innovative they are while others have questioned the reliability of the restrooms’ walls.

“While these restrooms do solve common issues related to public restroom usage, they could also end up creating more problems. If the walls malfunctioned, engineers would have to fix them and constantly perform checkups to ensure that they are fully functional,” Sophomore Aurora Matsumura said.

When two billion people across the world do not have access to a toilet, ingenuity in the public sector is helpful in building accessibility.

By the year 2021, the foundation expects its 16 commissioned architects to design 17 public bathrooms across Shibuya, a commercial sector of Tokyo. Regardless of disabilities, age or gender, the project seeks to create and ensure equitable access to clean and aesthetically pleasing bathrooms.

“The motives behind this idea are really cool and I would love to have these bathrooms in my community. However, we also need to be mindful of the differences between people: members of the community should be able to provide input for the installation of transparent public bathrooms,” Senior Ellen Choi said.

One of many recent ventures into the world of public infrastructure innovation, THE TOKYO TOILET project is inspired by previous designs. In 2017, Swedish designer Olivier Rambert created a public restroom with ten stalls that also utilized transparent glass technology. However, this bathroom had a controversial feature—the doors automatically opened and the glass turned transparent if motion sensors inside the bathroom did not detect any movements for ten minutes. Other European countries have been trying out single-user bathroom stalls that emerge from the ground in the evening and disappear during the day.

When two billion people across the world do not have access to a toilet, ingenuity in the public sector is helpful in building accessibility. Although sanitation is a human right, too often public bathrooms do not meet necessary expectations. The toilets in Tokyo and other designs, though ripe for improvement, can help combat this issue by bringing innovation into the spotlight.


Updated Oct. 5, 2020: Fixed formatting errors.


What are your thoughts on these colorful bathrooms? Let us know in the comments below!

 

About the Contributors


Bertina Fan


Bertina Fan is a sophomore at Leland High School and is a staff writer for The Charger Account. She likes to start off messages with "ヾ(°∇°*) Hi!"








Miranda Lu


Miranda Lu is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer for The Charger Account. She enjoys hiking, reading, and watching movies in her free time.





Pavana Upadhyaya

Pavana Upadhyaya is a sophomore at Leland High School and is a staff writer for The Charger Account. She likes to read nonfiction in her free time.

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