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Japanese

Designer's
Interview

In pursuit of a 'toilet like a gallery' that brings smiles to one and all.

GALLERY TOTO, the product of one and a half years of work. Developed around the concept of 'a toilet like a gallery', surrounded by glass on three sides, and boasting the Japan-first use of LED monitors (luminous textiles) this project contained a lot of firsts. To get an inside view of this challenging project, we spoke to the architects responsible for the design and the senior manager from TOTO who was responsible for the project.

  • Astrid Klein

    Architects at Klein Dytham
    architecture (KDa)

    Astrid Klein

  • Mark Dytham

    Architects at Klein Dytham
    architecture (KDa)

    Mark Dytham

  • Mitsuaki Hashida

    Media Development Department,
    Senior Manager (Planning) at TOTO [at that time]

    Mitsuaki Hashida

How did Klein Dytham architecture (KDa) come to be responsible for the design of GALLERY TOTO?

Mitsuaki Hashida (MH):
In 2009, KDa held an exhibition of their work at TOTO GALLERY-MA. To be invited to exhibit at TOTO GALLERY-MA you need to be an architect who has reached a certain degree of recognition and achievement. In fact, whenever we met them at an event or social function in the past, the subject of collaboration always came up. As people from all over the world would be using GALLERY TOTO, we wanted to convey the technology and design of TOTO to them with a sense of humor. So, it was really a no-brainer to ask KDa to do it. With the endorsement of the cultural steering committee that runs TOTO GALLERY-MA we came to request their services.
A nervous early meeting.
Design model completed in January 2014. Displayed in the KDa offices.

(Looking at a photo of the meeting)

Mark Dytham (MD):
Ah, this brings back memories (laughs).
MH:
It's been one and a half years since we first met, hasn't it. It was November 2013 when we came to you with the offer.

What sorts of things bubbled up in your imagination when you received the offer from TOTO?

MD:
It really piqued my interest when I heard that GALLERY TOTO would be in the waiting area toilet space at Narita International Airport. Tens of thousands of people pass by that space. How should toilets in that kind of public space be? So we got this idea to turn the whole thing around, in a kind of humorous way.
Astrid Klein (AK):
Basically, toilets don't exactly have a very good image, do they? They're not fun or interesting destinations. They are also very closed spaces. But GALLERY TOTO is both a toilet area and a showroom. It also plays a role in giving foreign tourists leaving Japan a final, amazing experience which will stay in their memories. So, from the premise that a fun experience leads to good memories we decided to try to design a toilet that more than anything else wasn't a toilet – a 'toilet like a gallery'.
MD:
So we tried to bring together a number of individually unique toilet spaces.
AK:
Just like a gallery. Because in a gallery, you have all these different objects displayed on individual plinths. Toilet spaces are usually homogeneous, but we wanted to design something with a different kind of appeal.
MD:
So 'Individual' was another key word, wasn't it.
AK:
That's right. To become totally unique. So that people using the toilets retain their grace and dignity.
MD:
And also, from the concept of 'gallery', the image of a whole lot of objects displayed in glass boxes soon emerged as a key idea.
AK:
A gallery is not a place for hiding. On the contrary, it is a place to put objects on display. That's why in working towards a 'toilet like a gallery' we decided to move away from the closed feeling of normal toilets to a totally open approach. That's why we chose to surround the toilet space with transparent glass. You can see the whole of the space from the outside but we designed the booth location and door placement so that you can't see inside when someone is in there.
MH:
There were concerns over privacy and that's why some of the people involved in this project were opposed to the idea… at first anyway.
AK:
When we had a meeting that included people from Narita International Airport I was surprised when Hashida-san said he wanted an 'extreme' toilet – like for example, something that only had one single toilet (laughs).
MD:
I was also surprised (laughs). The scene at that meeting is etched in my memory.
MH:
Yes, I did say that (laughs). I really wanted to emphasize that we had no qualms about doing something that totally disregards common conceptions of the toilet. I thought that we couldn't commission an architect if we didn't have that kind of determination.
Making a presentation to executives at Narita International Airport.
Left picture)Astrid Klein explaining the model to Narita International Airport Executives.
Right picture)Inspecting the proposed site for GALLERY TOTO.

Is the plan that was presented at that stage close to the final result?

MH:
Yes, almost exactly the same. There is almost no change from the model that was finished in mid-February 2014.
AK:
At the start we presented three proposals, and from there we fine-tuned the plan until we got to the point where we had a glass box with ten uniquely shaped stalls inside.
MH:
All involved were very enthusiastic about the plan. At first, the booths were almost exactly in the shape of TOTO. That was great! But after considering aspects such as the placement of the required equipment and the comfort of the waiting area the design gradually evolved.
AK:
After a bit of massaging the layout, we reached a design that is not too different from TOTO though.... (smiles wryly).
MD:
And it was also pointed out to us that only four stalls could fit into the TOTO shape.
MH:
Well, that's because the customer is a huge international airport. I guess there's really no way we could have gotten away with just one toilet stall.

What was the reaction from those involved on Narita International Airport side?

MH:
They were coming at it from the perspective of building an airport toilet so they were concerned about the lack of a urinal and the low number of stalls. And of course they were also concerned about the external glass wall and the fact that the entire space could be seen from the outside. Those were the two issues, I think. We did explain to them, however, that it had been designed so that the private spaces inside of the stalls could not be seen.
MD:
What I remember is the discussion about 'the world's cleanest toilets'.
AK:
I remember that. I travel around the world all the time for business and leisure. So, I get to see a lot of airports. Unfortunately, Narita International Airport was nothing to write home about at that stage. So, I asked the people from the airport what the appeal of Narita was. They replied that Narita was known for having 'the world's cleanest toilets'. But unfortunately, I really don't think that that makes an impression on the world's travelers.
Just recently, at a presentation in New York, I was met with laughter when I told the students that we were working on a toilet block for Narita International Airport. They couldn't believe that we were working on toilets. In this kind of context, simply being clean is not going to get anyone's attention. We have lived in Japan for a long time, so we know how great and valuable hygienic toilet areas are but… For toilets that a lot of tourists from outside Japan are going to use, there needs to be something non toilet-like to catch their attention.

From the spatial design through to the external walls which display videos of dancers and abstract scenes, GALLERY TOTO is packed full of fun.

MD:
We wanted both the users of the space and those around it to be able to take pleasure in it.
AK:
The toilets are located in the waiting area. The hundreds of people sitting there waiting for their flights are probably pretty bored. There are some televisions, but if they are in Japanese then most foreign tourists won't understand them anyway.
MD:
Yeah, it can get pretty tiresome.
AK:
That's why we thought that the videos displayed on the external walls of GALLERY TOTO, in particular, should be something that anyone can enjoy. Actually, people enjoy watching what others are doing – people watching, right? So, the video that runs on the external wall – 'Toilet Life' – that's the hint. There are people doing weird dances and stuff around the toilet bowl (laughs). We made a story that sparks the imagination by wondering what other people do in the toilet. The fact that you can see a place that is usually hidden is another element which engages your curiosity.

The videos are displayed on large LED monitors, aren't they?

MD:
They are Philips Luminous Textile LED monitors. When I saw them at the design exhibition Milano Salone in Milan, Italy in 2013, I was immediately inspired. I knew that I would like to use them in some fun way.
AK:
That was the thing Mark was most excited about when he came back from Milan. He just couldn't wait for a chance to work with them (laughs).
MH:
So, I guess you thought that our offer was just the ticket! (laughs). The surface is made of cloth and the video is projected from the back using LEDs, so the outlines of the image are softened. It's definitely true that it makes for a unique effect.
We also were thinking that we wanted to use a large screen monitor in some way, but when we got an estimate for using another high-definition screen on the external wall it came back at around 100 million yen! My face went completely white (laughs). At this point, we reduced the surface area, and went with the new luminous textile technology that Mark was so excited about.
AK:
It wasn't just the budget, there were also technical issues too, weren't they?
MH:
It was very difficult to use textiles in a public facility, especially in light of fire safety regulations. The people from Narita Airport and TOTO engineers who were involved with the project spent a lot of time in explanations to the governing fire department, but after working out the safety measures, we were finally able to make it a reality.
AK:
It got to the point where we were like – "come on, this is a great idea; these LED monitors are made for this space.
MD:
It creates a dreamy feeling, like a video being played on a Japanese shoji screen (paper sliding door). I really love that slightly out of focus aspect.
AK:
It's like a shadow play. As opposed to being able to see everything clearly doing it this way sparks the imagination.
MH:
I don't know what they're doing in the toilet stall, but maybe it's something like that… That kind of thing… (laughs).
Going over the fine details in front of the blueprints.
April 2014. Deciding on the finer points of the interior design.

The creator of the images streaming near the outer wall is Yasuyuki Tamenaga of black*bath. Right from the start, you can get an image of his comical world view.

The actors of the images, "The Rare Mushroom Dance Troupe."
Filming at the studio. The profile displayed in the front is Mr. Tamenaga.
MD:
I We've known him for fifteen years, we like his irreverent attitude.
MD:
One of the main dancers from the contemporary dance group that is dancing in the images, 'The Rare Mushroom Dance Troupe', is also a friend. They do award-winning contemporary dance performances around the world.
MH:
Mr. Tamenaga, Mr. Dytham, Ms. Klein, and all the members of the dancers, you all seem to get alongwell.
AK:
We trust Tamenaga, and he trusts the dance group. Through this chain of trust, we were able to complete that image, 'Toilet Life'.
MH:
I went by the studio during the filming. It started before noon, and didn't finish until ten at night. It took more than ten hours. The performance was interesting, and just how many times did the shutter click?
AK:
The Rare Mushroom Dance Troupe is truly amazing. And so witty!
MH:
Going forward, I think it would be good if we switch out the images to match the season or an event. Especially with the Tokyo Olympics coming up, we should add a new version. I think we should request filmmaker Mr. Tamenaga with things like sports that have continuity. Actually, we already have a swimming version and the like, but I'm really looking forward to the next one.
MD:
Tennis or basketball have that sort of feeling to them.
AK:
People exercising in the bathroom might also be good.
MH:
Doing backflips and the like. I want to do something like that.

One of the glass panes that surrounds the space is quite big. The video cannot be disrupted midway through. It produces the seamless image of a glass box on the exterior.

MH:
The maximum size of one pane is 2500x2230m. They are two 12mm-thick panes glued together for a total thickness of 24mm. The truth is, since we are using the same kind of glass as for the exterior of sky bridge, it's extremely strong.
While it was brought in during the construction, it took many workers, taking the utmost care, to install it.
AK:
Amazing! I was wondering the whole time how something of that size,could be installed. Apparently it can! It's a good thing that we used the same kind of glass at Gallery Toto.
MH:
Because we are portraying an image of a glass box, I wanted to use the biggest sized glass that we could. Of course, there was also the means of bringing it in and the budget to think about, but I wanted to provide the largest glass possible to meet Mr. Dytham and Ms. Klein's image.

By the way, can I ask you, what part of the process of creating this project left the biggest impression on you?

MD:
For me, it was the things connected to Luminous Textiles. Whether it was the fire law, the cost, or problems with size, someone always seemed to find something negative about it (big laugh). Nevertheless, my desire to incorporate it never wavered.
AK:
For a while, Mark would say, 'If we don't have this, I won't go to any meetings. (laughs).
MD:
Coming from twenty years of experience, having someone tell you that your work is no good is the worst.
AK:
That's true. We want to do something that has no precedent. We want to think about the uniqueness of each and every project. It's a challenge, but if we don't try to push the boundaries, it won't produce any newsworthy PR value. Places that are 'just' beautiful are pretty much the norm in Japan. Moreover, in order to be able to get our next interesting project, we have to bear in mind that creating something normal is a no-go. There is no need to ask us to do something that anyone else can do. For us, balancing the budget and technical problems are a given every time. However, if we work hard to overcome these issues, which of course is not easy, the gratification we get afterwards is manyfold. It's addictive. (laughs).
MH:
If you can't overcome this hurdle, there is no feeling of accomplishment, right!?
AK:
Once you have an idea of what to do, it becomes easy not to give up.
MH:
I have worked with many architects, but no matter who they are, they all have some kind of fixation and will persist upon it till the end. It is common for many known professionals to get the impression that completing a large construction framework means the job is finished, but the truth is, fussing about minute details leads to something good.
AK:
That's right. We pay attention to all the small details. However, visitors cannot differentiate.
what is architectures, what is interior and what is furniture. For the visitor it all combines into one seamless picture. It is therefore important to care about, right down to the smallest detail.
The middle stages of construction.
Left picture)February, 2015. A photo commemorating the installation of the glass and the foundation of the booth.
Right picture)Explaining the construction of the Hydro Cera Wall that is being used inside of the booth.
MH:
If I look at it objectively, I would have to say that the most impressive thing was the moment when Mark and Ms. Klein saw the very first test lighting of the Luminous Textile. They looked so happy at that very moment!
AK:
It was like Christmas!
MD:
It was far more beautiful than I thought it would be. The images projected upon the Luminous Textile were out of focus. Since natural light gets into the area around Gallery Toto and the lighting is bright, I was a little worried about whether or not the images could be seen well.
AK:
It was pitch black when we did the test lighting, so it wasn't a problem then, but I was really worried about what it would look like daytime. But, once I realized that the images could be seen clearly during the daytime too, I was relieved.
MD:
At that time, even all the construction workers watched it, right? That made me happy.
AK:
Finishing the project and making so many people smile is the thing that brings me satisfaction the most.
Test projection of the unique, colorful images that gush forth.
Left picture)March, 2015. Mr. Tamenaga, Mr. Hashida, Ms. Klein, and Mr. Dytham watching over the test projection of the Luminous Textile.
Right picture)Projecting from the Luminous Textile that run along the outer walls.

How about the indicator in front of the booth? It's your first time to try that too, right?

MH:
Once you enter the booth, the light changes from blue to red. It increases every thirty seconds and reaches its max at ten minutes. After that, it starts flickering (laughs).
AK:
It's as if it's telling you to hurry up and get out (laughs)! It's like it knows people are waiting outside and the same system was installed inside as well. We want people to take their time making their way out, but there are some people who just need to be reminded that there might be others.
MH:
We thought that this system would be a witty way to deal with waiting lines. During the planning, there were some that thought we did not have to go this far, but of course we did not want to give up on it. Along with the images streaming on the outer walls, the time indicator gives a strong impression of a toilet space.
The indicator that shows your length of stay in the booth.
The indicator on the door side turns red when you enter the room (above). It progresses as time goes by (below).

One more question (laughs). I was surprised at how extremely simple the explanation on operating the remote control was, but...

MH:
Right. In order not to make the explanation too excessive and not to plaster up too much wallspace with explanations, Ms. Klein, and her colleagues, studies a simple design. In order to allow people to grasp the explanation easily, we requested it after making all those opposed fully aware that it was a suitable risk to our company.
The area around the simplified remote control.
Explanation on how the remote control only has five kinds of operations and how the lower plate has three languages.
AK:
With washlets in public buildings, there are too many explanations, thus making them conversely hard to understand, and in the end ignored all together. Disregarding the architectural space, we wanted to improve on the method of affixing a sticker to it. So, in order to make it simple and easy to understand, we joined the same size plates together, and unified the area around the remote control, as well as the space, with the same design language. However, it must have been difficult for Mr. Hashida and his colleagues within their company.
MH:
The languages included English, Chinese, and Korean, in addition to Japanese and the explanation only included 'stop', 'buttocks', and 'flush'. When we tried to stand up to criticism from within the company, we got some surprising reactions, such as 'Great.', 'Nothing wrong with that.', and, 'This is just fine.'. We also had to be careful not to undervalue the sensitivity of our engineering staff.

How do you want visitors to enjoy Gallery Toto?

AK:
I want them to come without expectations whatsoever and to enjoy the space with an open mind. If they start to compare it to normal toilets, I wonder if perhaps many complaints will start to come out. Things like, 'Where should I line up?', 'Others don't seem to be coming out.', and, 'Why do the booths seem to be become so annoying, one by one?'(laughs).
MH:
There are also some people who want to understand the reasons, since it is there first time to encounter this space.
AK:
So, to avoid this situation, I want people to realize from the start that this is a gallery. And then there will be the curious visitor. This is good. Generally speaking, they will look and enjoy. That's it. Of course, the truth is that this is a special toilet space that they have never seen before, but....""So, to avoid this situation, I want people to realize from the start that this is a gallery. And then there will be the curious visitor. This is good. Generally speaking, they will look and enjoy. That's it. Of course, the truth is that this is a special toilet space that they have never seen before, but....
MD:
It might be something they have never seen before, but it's timeless. It's not a fashionable interior.
AK:
To an extent, we are doing a fairly simple thing with this space. So, we want visitors to feel comfortable and then connect that experience to the Toto brand. If they take away a good experience, then when they go to buy a toilet, they will no doubt choose a Toto toilet, no?

Though you met frequently over the time it took the project to complete, it seems that Mr. Hashida only found out something on the opening day of Gallery Toto.

MH:
It's the picture being used on the wall. Mt. Fuji, a waterfall, and a heart-shaped island: the variation is extensive and which point of view you chose was quietly a mystery. We trust in Ms. Klein and Mr. Dytham's sense, so we just roughly conveyed our wish for 'something connected to water'. In another interview on the day of the opening, I heard Ms. Klein say, 'That's a picture of places that I want to go.', and realized what she meant.
AK:
Let me add to that explanation a little (laughs). What we chose was, of course, related to water, such as the ocean, rivers, lakes and waterfalls as a prerequisite. But from there, we also included the characteristics of Narita, as well as images of traveling. We chose pleasant pictures of places that are quiet like a bathroom, and make you feel like you want to go there when you catch sight of them. Since this is Japan, I wanted to somehow include Mt. Fuji, but because it had to have water in the picture we chose one with Lake Kawaguchiko in front of it
MH:
It might be surprising, but we didn't tell them to do that. We requested that they freely select what they wanted, because we thought we shouldn't ask such unsophisticated questions (laughs).

Finally, could you tell us about your current feelings?

MH:
Now that Gallery Toto has been completed and has opened without any problems, it's a little sad to see the stressful, yet enjoyable days of planning, as well as the days of on-site fighting, come to an end.
AK:
I think there are still many places where stylish bathrooms need to be made. Moreover, I want to try my hand at a fresh, new project.
MD:
Alright, let's talk about it! (laughs).

Coverage:Aki sukegawa, Picture:Daisuke Ohki