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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.

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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.

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

About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.

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