What needs to change in the case of public toilet designs in India
In the wake of this COVID-19 pandemic, we have been compelled to rethink a number of things. While spaces are being heavily sanitised in order to get rid of the virus from surfaces, it is time we paid closer attention to hygiene and cleanliness in public spaces in general too. Take for instance the case of public toilets in India—most can be viewed as potential breeding grounds for bacteria and other infectious diseases. While there are guidelines in place for their construction, it often ends up being a project wherein the necessary boxes are simply checked off the list. The aspects of design, consideration of context and proper maintenance can often end up being neglected. We spoke to three experts, who gave us insights into what all needs to be kept in mind, not just from the design point of view but also regarding management and maintenance practices.
The Architect’s Role
“The current scenario of ‘designing public toilets’ doesn’t have enough ‘design.’ There is a lot more emphasis on location of toilet and the number of seats. The Government plays an important role in identifying locations where public toilets are needed and thereafter the other stakeholders come in. The focus becomes more about number of seats for female and male. Because of the paucity of funds in the public toilet space, design takes a back seat,” says Gupta. Conscious and sensitive designs can ensure the usage of appropriate materials, streamlined movements patterns, suitable treatment and disposal of sewage, practical and well-thought out layouts, all of this in response to the site conditions, while lending an aesthetic touch.
Maintenance and Funding
The municipalities also need to either spend a lot more money on their public toilet projects or allow toilet donors to earn back their project costs from other sources such as advertising,” he says. “I think they could have smarter policies on the amount and spaces for advertising and yet not put a stop to it completely. This way the public toilets don’t become an advertising hoarding jumble, and yet allow the donors and maintainers to earn sufficient amounts to pay back the project and maintenance costs. Without enough money behind these projects for both construction and maintenance, no amount of design or planning will solve the problem.”
Materials that are easy to clean are an ideal choice for the interiors. The Light Box, a women’s toilet designed by Architects makes use of polyurethane for the flooring, an economical material that can be cleaned easily. For the inner walls, opted for aluminium composite panels and stainless-steel sheets, again, easy to clean and durable as well. When it comes to designing, “seamless surfaces” are crucial for easier maintenance purposes and goes on to tell us how this is especially pertinent in the COVID-19 scenario where heavy sanitisation has become an absolute-must. In case where seamless surfaces cannot be achieved easily, the design should include a minimum number of joints. The outer walls have been constructed out of perforated stainless steel that allows for cross-ventilation and for sunlight to stream in and the roof has been designed using polycarbonate. “One very important aspect is the sunlight,” Light Box, restroom for women, was designed around sunlight. And that was purely for the reason to completely avoid the naturally growing bacteria in dark spaces.