INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects

Hosted by World Interiors News at Soho House, London and sponsored by Geberit, Jane Lawrence (Director at Johnson Naylor, ex-director Conran & Partners) chaired a stimulating debate focusing on the ways that design thinking can innovate and inspire. In attendance was Julia Wyatt, Green Tea Architects; Stela Stojic, Chapman Taylor; Barbara Bochnak, Zaha Hadid Architects; Jenny Jones, Ex Conran & Partners; Juliana Galvao, BLDA Architects; Armin Buchbinder, Hopkins Architects. Targeting issues in bathroom and hygiene design, the debate discussed privacy versus social interaction, hygiene versus functionality, ecological responsibility and technology, asking: "How can designers be responsible for the future of hygiene design?"

Public not Private - as much a place of sociability as cleanliness

Historically we seemed to be less concerned with privacy than we are now as a new status has emerged in the last few decades for private bathrooms and toilets. Are we more concerned with privacy than in the past? With individual bathrooms being less common historically, there is an idea of enclosure and separateness with the bathroom space. The 'smallest room in the house' remains a contrast to open plan living and social space which is perhaps linked to the importance of cleanliness and hygiene within this distinct space.

The function of bathing itself is not historically about cleanliness; communal baths and water were a social idea rather than for washing oneself. It is important therefore to have an understanding in the two areas of the bathroom: cleanliness in washing and going to the toilet. Fear of harmful microbes has led to almost half the population regularly using antibacterial hand wash. As designers, does this obsession with combating germs lead to more opportunity in design or are we more restricted?

Germ warfare

As many as 7.3 million Britons claim to be more concerned about germs than they used to be: one in six people worry about the presence of germs in the home. Stela Stojic from Chapman Taylor explains, "It is the avoidance of touching the toilet, just in case germs are present, which is a concern when designing". There is a real possibility that this trend will lead to design playing a part in creating a society with OCD. It is the notion of touch that is a result of the panic around germs; we are more concerned about what we physically touch in the bathroom than the breeding of the bacteria itself. With touchless toilets and taps, the idea of touching bacteria is removed. But how far will this go in design: will society become so hands free that we won't be able to touch anything?

Homogenous design

The design repercussions on hygienic products mean that they now look sanitised and homogenous, medical and clean. There is a danger that product design separates the user experience as there is a desire to sanitise a product between one person using it and another. How can designers and architects focus on creating beautiful spaces when the products used must be so sanitised , and the surrounding spaces do not? There is a dichotomy between functionality and well-being, hygiene and well-being: projects should be pure, but not necessarily homogenous. There are visual associations and archetypes such as using a stone in the design to emulate a communal Roman bath which are acceptable and popular in bathroom design.

Cultural Differences and Status

Cultural considerations should also be made to tailor design towards the trends in a specific market. In Japan, for example, the purity behind washing is ritualistic, hygienic and combined with an appreciation for new technology. A toilet has become a status symbol, with gadgets defining worth in

the home extending to music, lights and heated seats in toilet design which is an exciting concept in such a confined space. Does there need to be different designs for different cultural markets or will there be a product middle-ground? Specification and design point of view is changing with people travelling far and wide, thus affecting the requests of clients looking for designs discovered in another country. Britain however seems to be losing its identity in the individuality of design and is turning to new technologies outside of the country.

New technology

Although technology seems to link with luxury design, the rise of technology in the bathroom is leading to greater ecological responsibility. As well as being highly accessible, hygiene technology extends from touchless flushes to environmentally-friendly electric hand dryers, which reduce the need for paper towels. More common in hotels and public spaces, hygiene awareness seems much higher when in a space where its cleanliness is outside of our control. Does technology in bathroom hospitality spaces create novelty due to something we do not have at home? Is there a place for simple design in future public bathroom design or is this limited to the home? How far should technology go in hygiene design? Hand washing and overuse of water damages the environment - how can we contribute to better use in the bathroom? Should toilets go 'off system' and avoid sewers and infrastructure in place to become self-hygienic? Clever design can also have ecological benefits: one does not need to negate the other.

The bigger picture

But not all technology needs to be infra-red and water restrictions; hygienic coatings for example show a softer and perhaps more innovative side to the use of hygiene technology. As architects and designers, is it more important to design for the project, such as a well-being bathroom for a well-being hotel, or do we need to shape the future of hygiene design in our suggestions so the client is aware of the type of products available? It would be great as designers to bring the idea of one space into another, to bring beauty and creativity to our project, to bridge the gap between the sanitised world and the social world. Having a beautiful space can alleviate the stress of hygiene. So you could get away with products being functional as long as there is a design expression. Experience is important too: if we are elevated beyond our bodily functions we can be less concerned with hygiene.

Jenny Jones concluded, "Having a bath makes the bathroom a central space, whereas without, the space seems only to be functional. Is the bathroom the last place in the house of beauty, peace and tranquillity that retains privacy?" Is the future of domestic design a standalone bath and separate toilet? Designers need to play a part in the equilibrium between hygiene and design: people must be educated in a consciousness of how products are used and how to be more ecologically and hygienically responsible. There are trends for earthy connected design and on the other hand for technology and cleanliness - society expects things to be practical and beautiful - the public is design savvy and designers need to cater to this.