What is a habit that Singaporeans should develop?
For a group of five students from the National University of Singapore, the answer lay in encouraging the shared responsibility of maintaining the cleanliness and comfort of public toilets, especially those found in parks.
Their solution: Bamboo Outhouse, a multi-pronged architectural solution constructed from the same material.
This they submitted as an entry to the Singapore In 2041 competition, co-organised by d+a and Geberit earlier this year.
It went on to win the special category of Bathroom Of The Future Award.
Arko Bhowmik, Jasmine Shi, Yang Kaiwen, Deborah Poon and Tan Wen Xuan felt that a likely reason that public toilets ae often soiled is due to the user's cognisance that it is a “public” toilet.
“Something unique would help break the routine the user has when using public toilets,” says Bhowmik.
“Keeping in mind the stereotypes of Singaporeans (saving face in front of others), we came up with the idea of self-surveillance to encourage keeping the toilets clean.”
Bamboo Outhouse has three distinctive parts to it, beginning with cladding the cubicle’s interior walls with mirrors, similar to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room.
With the mirrors clearly reflecting any actions or inaction, the user will be forced to flush the toilet fully and keep it clean.
Mounted above the cistern behind the toilet bowl is a one-way glass, inspired by Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, where the illusion of constant surveillance increases lawful behaviour as prisoners become their own guards.
Since the user can look out but cannot be seen by outsiders, an immediate and instinctual reaction will kick in to ensure the toilet is kept pristine.
The sink is placed outside the cubicle, so that any unhygienic behaviour will be witnessed by passers-by.
The user will feel compelled to keep the floor dry but not shaking their hands after washing them and binning any litter.
Far from being a standalone cubicle, the design of Bamboo Outhouse is in fact scalable.
The team took its cue from beehives, specifically their hexagonal nature, and applied it to their design.
“If we keep adding these hexagons next to each other, we can create a ring of cubicles with a central communal area,” says Shi.
“This also means that the cubicle doors slightly face each other, resulting in a sort of collective surveillance of the toilet.”
The hexagonal shape also allows for the easier placement of multiple mirrors within the cubicle, creating a kaleidoscopic effect.
Frosted glass is used on the façade to evoke the idea that the public is keeping an eye on whoever is inside the toilet.
To counteract the heat that would result from the use of the mirrors, the team turned to using bamboo as a material.
The benefits are manifold, including its low cost, easy availability and being a more environmentally friendly alternative to concrete.
In addition, it designed the roof to be raised for improved lighting and ventilation.
Grass is planted on it to reduce the heat-island effect and keep the interiors of the cubicle cool.
Yang points towards the flexibility in the function of the cubicles and how it can be used for other purposes, such as showering and janitor storage.
“It allows suitable changes to be made in order to fulfil the needs of the users when our design solution is implemented at specific sites,” she says.
Some locations in Singapore that Bamboo Outhouse can be set in include Labrador Park, Hindhede Nature Park or Windsor Nature Park.
“We want to emphasise the importance of sustainability when it comes to conserving natural biodiversity and ecosystems,” points out Poon.
Adds Tan, “In fact, our design solution remains effective and can be easily implemented almost anywhere.”