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Why Tokyo’s New Transparent Public Restrooms Are A Stroke Of Genius

Tokyo transparent bathroom

Pritker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban’s transparent public toilets turn opaque when in use.


The Nippon Foundation

At first, it’s hard to fathom how a public restroom with transparent walls could possibly help ease toilet anxiety — but a counterintuitive design by one of Japan’s most innovative architects aims to do just that.

Around the world, public toilets get a foul rap. Even in Japan, where restrooms have a higher standard of hygiene than in much of the rest of the world, residents harbor a fear that public toilets are dark, dirty, smelly and scary.

To cure the public’s phobia, the non-profit Nippon Foundation launched “The Tokyo Toilet Project,” tasking 16 well-known architects to renovate 17 public toilets located in the public parks of Shibuya, one of the busiest commercial areas of Tokyo.

The mission was to apply innovative design to make public bathrooms accessible for everyone regardless of gender, age or disability, with a goal “that people will feel comfortable using these public toilets and to foster a spirit of hospitality for the next person,” according to a statement from The Nippon Foundation.

The most talked-about design comes from Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban, whose transparent restrooms popped up this month in Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park and the Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park.

There are six cubicles altogether, each surrounded by transparent tinted glass in cyan, lime green, blue, yellow, pink or purple. The see-through design has a practical reason, which is to allow a person to easily check inside before entering.

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“There are two concerns with public toilets, especially those located in parks,” explains The Nippon Foundation, the non-profit organization. “The first is whether it is clean inside, and the second is that no one is secretly waiting inside.”

The design relies on a new smartglass technology that turns the walls opaque when the door is locked. “At night, they light up the parks like a beautiful lantern,” according to The Nippon Foundation.

Along with the two facilities designed by Ban, “The Tokyo Toilet Project” has also opened three other public restrooms, created by interior designer Masamichi Katayama in Ebisu Park; Pritzker winner Fumihiko Maki in Ebisu East Park; and New York-based furniture designer Nao Tamura near Ebisu Station.

In the coming weeks, restrooms will open from architect Takenosuke Sakakura in Nishihara Itchome Park and Tadao Ando, yet another Pritzker Prize winner, in Jingu-Dori Park. The remainder of the project’s renovations are slated to open in the spring of 2021.

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