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Architecture

Transparent Public Toilets Unveiled In Tokyo Parks — But They Also Offer Privacy

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A woman enters a public restroom with transparent walls in Tokyo's Shibuya ward. Architect Shigeru Ban designed the bathroom in a way to reassure anyone entering the toilet.
Satoshi Nagare, The Nippon Foundation

A woman enters a public restroom with transparent walls in Tokyo's Shibuya ward. Architect Shigeru Ban designed the bathroom in a way to reassure anyone entering the toilet.

The idea of using a public bathroom with see-through walls may sound like the stuff of nightmares. But a famous Japanese architect is hoping to change that view, using vibrant colors and new technology to make restrooms in Tokyo parks more inviting.

"There are two things we worry about when entering a public restroom, especially those located at a park," according to architect Shigeru Ban's firm. "The first is cleanliness, and the second is whether anyone is inside."

Transparent walls can address both of those worries, Ban says, by showing people what awaits them inside. After users enter the restroom and lock the door, the powder room's walls turn a powdery pastel shade — and are no longer see-through.

"Using a new technology, we made the outer walls with glass that becomes opaque when the lock is closed, so that a person can check inside before entering," the Nippon Foundation says.

The group is behind the Tokyo Toilet project, enlisting world-famous architects to create toilets "like you've never seen."

Ban's transparent facilities are sure to be conversation fodder for anyone visiting the park — and they'll stand out even more after dark.

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"At night, the facility lights up the park like a beautiful lantern," the architect's website says.

The project's eye-catching toilets are part of a plan to put people at ease when visiting a public bathroom – a prospect that can trigger a number of responses, from relief to trepidation.

The project may seem frivolous, but the 16 architects who are reimagining public toilets are some of the brightest names in Japanese architecture. The list includes four Pritzker Prize winners — Ban, Toyo Ito, Tadao Ando and Fumihiko Maki – along with international stars such as Kengo Kuma and Sou Fujimoto. The fashion designer Nigo is also contributing.

The Nippon Foundation is redesigning 17 public toilets in Shibuya, one of Tokyo's busiest shopping and entertainment districts. The foundation is working with the local government to deploy two of Japan's national strengths – devotion to cleanliness and design – to address a public necessity.

Well-known toilet company TOTO, famous for its toilets that coddle users with features such as heated seats, bidets and deodorizers, "will advise on toilet equipment and layout," the foundation says.

Ban's colorful public bathrooms opened to the public this month in two parks: Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park and Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park. Other bespoke commodes will be opening in coming months.

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