Pritzker Prize winners among 16 creators transforming public toilets in Shibuya, Tokyo

Tadao Ando, Fumihiko Maki and Shigeru Ban are among the architects and designers who are part of the Nippon Foundation's Tokyo Toilet initiative to renovate public restrooms.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Oct 19, 2020

The Nippon Foundation recently launched the Tokyo Toilet project to build new public toilets at 17 locations in Shibuya, Tokyo. The foundation invited creators including Pritzker Prize laureates from Japan to transform public restrooms as a way of moving toward the realisation of a society that embraces diversity.

“Modern Kawaya” designed by Masamichi Katayama for the Tokyo Toilet initiative | Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
“Modern Kawaya” designed by Masamichi Katayama for the Tokyo Toilet initiative Image: Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation

Japan is known as one of the cleanest countries in the world. Even public toilets have a higher standard of hygiene as compared to other countries. However, the use of public toilets in Japan has been limited due to the belief that they are unclean and dark. To dispel these misconceptions regarding public toilets, the Nippon Foundation, in cooperation with the Shibuya City government, took it upon themselves to transform the public toilets in one city. To create an even higher standard, these public toilets have been designed by 16 leading creators, and use advanced design to make them accessible for everyone regardless of gender, age, or disability, to demonstrate the possibilities of an inclusive society. In addition to the construction, ongoing maintenance has also been arranged for people to feel comfortable.

The 16 architects and designers who have created the public toilets are - Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito, Tomohito Ushiro, Masamichi Katayama, Kengo Kuma, Junko Kobayashi, Takenosuke Sakakura, Kashiwa Sato, Kazoo Sato, Nao Tamura, NIGO®, Marc Newson, Shigeru Ban, Sou Fujimoto, Miles Pennington and Fumihiko Maki.

STIR lists down the six toilets that are now open for use beginning August 2020, along with the creators’ thoughts on the design of the public restrooms.

  • The Transparent toilets at Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park and Haru-no-Ogawa | Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
    The transparent toilets at Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park and Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park, designed by Shigeru Ban Image: Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation
  • The exterior glass turns opaque when the public toilet designed by Shigeru Ban is occupied | Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
    The exterior glass turns opaque when the public toilet designed by Shigeru Ban is occupied Image: Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation

1. At Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park and Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park
by Shigeru Ban

“There are two things we worry about when entering a public restroom, especially those located at a park. The first is cleanliness, and the second is whether anyone is inside. Using the latest technology, the exterior glass turns opaque when locked. This allows users to check the cleanliness and whether anyone is using the toilet from the outside. At night, the facility lights up the park like a beautiful lantern.”
- Shigeru Ban

  • The sketch by Tadao Ando imagining the public toilet in the urban landscape | Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
    The sketch by Tadao Ando imagining the public toilet in the urban landscape Image: Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation
  • The circular floor plan was designed by Tadao Ando to allow safety and comfort | Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
    The circular floor plan was designed by Tadao Ando to allow safety and comfort Image: Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation

2. At Jingu-Dori Park
by Tadao Ando

“I sought for this small architecture to exceed the boundaries of a public toilet to become a ‘place’ in the urban landscape that provides immense public value. Using this clear and simple reasoning for the concept of this structure, I chose to utilise a circular floor plan with a spanning roof and engawa. It was vital for me to make a space that was comfortable and safe. Visitors can move inside a cylindrical wall of vertical louvers to feel the comfort of the wind and light from the surrounding environment. A feeling of safety will be emphasised by the free and centripetal circulation which passes through to the other side. This toilet tucked away in the greenery that is Jingu-Dori Park will be known as ‘Amayadori’.”
- Tadao Ando

  • The ‘Squid Toilet’ designed by Fumihiko Maki is meant to be popular addition to the Octopus Park | Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
    The ‘Squid Toilet’ designed by Fumihiko Maki is meant to be popular addition to the Octopus Park Image: Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation
  • The public toilet designed by Fumihiko Maki functions as a public space | Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
    The public toilet designed by Fumihiko Maki functions as a public space Image: Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation

3. At Ebisu East Park
By Fumihiko Maki

“We are grateful for the opportunity to reconsider the use of public spaces through this public toilet project. The project site, Ebisu East Park, is a popular neighbourhood park that is used as a children's playground and is filled with lush greenery. We wanted this facility to function not only as a public restroom but as a public space that serves as a park pavilion equipped with a rest area. Thinking about a variety of users, from children to people on their way to work, we wanted to create a safe and comfortable space that uses a decentralised layout to allow for good sight lines throughout the facility. The cheerful roof that integrates the different sections promotes ventilation and natural light, creating a bright and clean environment while giving the facility a unique appearance similar to playground equipment. Ebisu East Park is also known as ‘Octopus Park’ because of its octopus-shaped playground equipment. We hope this new facility, the ‘Squid Toilet’, will become a popular addition to the park.”
- Fumihiko Maki

  • The public toilet designed by Takenosuke Sakakura is a bright and open facility | Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
    The public toilet designed by Takenosuke Sakakura is a bright and open facility Image: Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation
  • The public toilet designed by Takenosuke Sakakura communicates with the park | Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
    The public toilet designed by Takenosuke Sakakura communicates with the park Image: Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation

4. At Nishihara Itchome Park
By Takenosuke Sakakura

“The former restroom in Nishihara 1-chome was uninviting and rarely used. We thought it was important to create a facility that not only fulfils the basic requirements of a public restroom, such as having enough toilets to ensure a reasonable wait time, but offers a unique appeal that encourages more people to use the facility. By constructing a facility that is bright and open in the limited space of the site, we hope to improve the image of not only the restroom but the entire park. We hope that the restroom will illuminate the park like andon, or lanterns, creating an inviting public space for the visitors.”
- Takenosuke Sakakura

  • The design by Nao Tamura addresses equality by dividing the three sections for individual use | Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
    The design by Nao Tamura addresses equality by dividing the three sections for individual use Image: Hojo Hiroko, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation
  • Nao Tamura took inspiration from Origata, the traditional Japanese art of wrapping | Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
    Nao Tamura took inspiration from Origata, the traditional Japanese art of wrapping Image: Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation

5. At Higashi Sanchome
By Nao Tamura

“The bathroom is a place where we address physical needs universal to all mankind, regardless of age, sexual identity, nationality, religion, or skin colour. As we come into an age of increased awareness, how can a communal space like the public bathroom evolve in order to effectively accommodate our infinitely diverse needs? Living in New York, I have been privileged to witness the LGBTQ+ community living in alignment with their sexual identities. As I designed this public bathroom for a small triangular lot in Shibuya, I envisioned a society that embraces the LGBTQ+ community and holds space for them to live their truth. I realised that what enables each user a comfortable experience boils down to safety, privacy and urgency. With this in mind, I created three separate spaces that redefine the way a public bathroom establishes personal space. The design was inspired by Origata, a traditional Japanese method of decorative wrapping. A symbol of gift-giving, this motif embodies the spirit of hospitality towards Shibuya ward’s multinational visitors, and carries my vision to create a safe space that envelopes all users. This design represents my hope for a society where people from all walks of life feel safe and are able to thrive.”
- Nao Tamura

  • Masamichi Katayama designed the public toilet inspired from the origin of toilets in Japanese history, which were called Kawaya| Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
    Masamichi Katayama designed the public toilet inspired from the origin of toilets in Japanese history, which were called Kawaya Image: Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation
  • Masamichi Katayama designed an ‘ambiguous space’ that is simultaneously an object and a toilet by randomly combining 15 concrete walls | Tokyo Toilets | Nippon Foundation | STIRworld
    Masamichi Katayama designed an ‘ambiguous space’ that is simultaneously an object and a toilet by randomly combining 15 concrete walls Image: Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation

6. At Ebisu Park
By Masamichi Katayama

“We kept in mind a facility that distances itself from architectural concepts and elements: an object that stands casually in the park as if it were playground equipment, benches, or trees. In Japan, the origin of toilets is kawaya, written initially as 川屋 and later 厠 (also pronounced kawaya). Kawaya was a hut (ya) that stood over the river (kawa) dating back to the Neolithic times of early Jomon period (10,000 to 6,000 BCE). These huts were of primitive and simple designs, often made of hardened soil or pieces of wood bound together. Trying to envision the appearance and atmosphere of the primitive kawaya of the past, we built an ‘ambiguous space’ that is simultaneously an object and a toilet by randomly combining 15 concrete walls. The spaces between the walls lead users into three different areas designed for men, women, and everyone. The design creates a unique relationship in which users are invited to interact with the facility as if they are playing with a curious piece of playground equipment.”
- Masamichi Katayama

The remaining toilets are scheduled for completion by the spring of 2021. While the specifications of each toilet vary, wheelchair access is possible at all locations. Ostomate facilities are also available at some locations. All toilets are also equipped with Washlet. The toilets will be constructed by DAIWA HOUSE INDUSTRY CO., LTD. while TOTO LTD. will advise on toilet equipment and layout.

Project Details

Name: The Tokyo Toilet
Location: Shibuya, Tokyo
Time taken from conception to construction: For almost two years and half since the project was established.
Brand collaborators: The toilets are being constructed by Daiwa House Industry Co., Ltd., and TOTO Ltd. advising on toilet equipment and layout.

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