The Art of the Outhouse

Architects have recently begun exploring the potential of the outhouse, lifting its design out of the backwoods, pre-plumbing associations.

Reststop Akkarvikodden

Projects such as the rest stop Akkarvikodden in Norway, by Manthey Kula Architects, have claimed new ground for the lowly public toilet.

The structure's rusting steel both distinguish it from and make it a part of the landscape--the grassy boulders and thick fog of a town called Lofoton--while generous windows let in plenty of light.

Public Toilet in Ichihara

The latest to join the outhouse in crowd is Sou Fujimoto's Public Toilet project, which recently opened in Ichihara, Japan.

Public Toilet in Ichihara

Billed as "the world's largest toilet," the lavatory has glass walls, surrounded by gardens.

Public Toilet in Ichihara

A tall, dark wood fence closes the compound off from prying eyes, creating a perfectly private pooping annex for the user.

Public Toilet in Ichihara

Like the other projects in this slideshow, Fujimoto's glassy toilet was designed to draw attention, eyeballs, and most important, visitors. A look-at-me outhouse like this one is a good way of to boost tourism.

Kumutoto Toilets

If Fujimoto's minimalism is all modern, glossy sheen, the Kumutoto Toilets by Studio Pacific Architecture are the architectural equivalent of a Judd Apatow film--all whimsy, toilet humor, and fun.

Kumutoto Toilets

Like twin beached slugs, the Kumutoto Toilets arch up over a sidewalk in Wellington, New Zealand. The project is a big hit with the locals and with children; it's more art installation than public bathroom.

Hiroshima Park Public Toilets

This public toilet by Future Studio sits on a sandy lot in Hiroshima Park. The sharp roofline resembles, the architects say, an origami crane spreading its wings.

Hiroshima Park Public Toilets

The exterior's abstract form is matched by the interior's artful ambiance, created in most part by the bright-red piping that frames each of the bathroom's fixtures. Seventeen of these structures dot Hiroshima Park, each one painted a different exterior color.

Public Toilet Unit

Designed by Schleifer & Milczanowski Architekci, this public bathroom, in a park in in Gdańsk, Poland, has a restrained elegance that still manages to surprise. It's animated by the striated wood and metal bars that run along its exterior.

Public Toilet Unit

The straight lines warp near its base, where the bars bulge out, increasing the distance between the cladding and the central toilet shell. The depth is enough to accommodate the front wheels of a bicycle, turning this public bathroom into a high-end bike-rack.

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Splashy Architecture: The Outhouse Is In

There's a burgeoning trend in public bathroom design where the more open and outrageous the better.

Modern plumbing and sewage pretty much flushed out the outhouse. And yet, these bathroom annexes have made a fashionable comeback of late, especially as public facilities. Many architects are designing impressive, and in some cases, high-flying outhouse upgrades that lend the lowly lavatory a sense of whimsy.

The latest comes from Ichihara, in the Chiba prefecture of Japan, where Sou Fujimoto has installed a transparent public toilet in a verdant—and wide open—garden.

Photo by Iwan Baan

The project, seen here in its second iteration, functions as a kind of attraction in an area where there are no others. Ichihara tourism reps have billed it as "the world’s largest toilet," but the commode itself isn’t outrageously sized. The claim instead refers to Fujimoto’s crystalline design and its unique ability to absorb the landscape that surrounds it.

In Ichihara, a minimal steel structure holds glass walls in place that artfully frame the actual bathroom fixtures. The throne commands a view of an idyllic patch of green—hemmed in by a tall black fence, which keeps prying eyes out.

The glassy water closet, which follows Fujimoto's Serpentine Pavilion of this past summer—is being presented as an installation in the city’s annual art festival. Like any themed art event (think the Rain Room), it’s an experience that can’t quite be replicated elsewhere, thereby earning it its tourist board distinction.

Fujimoto's contemporary outhouse currently commands the, uh, throne. But there are plenty of other attention-grabbing public toilets of late that take a page from the same playbook. Projects like the Kumutoto Toilets in Wellington, New Zealand, or the Akkarvikodden rest stop in Lofoten, Norway, seem to exist only to attract cameras. Others, such as the Public Toilet for Gdansk, fulfill a more urban purpose, in this case adding a restroom, a sculptural landmark, and a much-needed bike rack to a public park.

They're all proudly, unabashedly architectural. None of the structures, nor the designers behind them, are limited by a public toilet's small footprint or straightforward program.

Head up to the slideshow to see some more wild, flashy, and high-concept bathrooms.

[Photo: © Paul Warchol]

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