Innovations in materials and water services are improving the expressive potential in the architectural design of washrooms
At the macrocosmic level, unisex superloos are a new strategy favoured by some, and washroom entrance doors are often dispensed with – especially in schools where the consequent improvements in surveillance help to regulate antisocial behaviour, as well as in airport departures zones, where taking your hand luggage into these areas is easier, thereby enhancing security. At the South Terminal of London’s Gatwick Airport gents even get a spacious open urinal cubicle complete with mini-sink. If only something approaching this type of civilised experience could be made available in other building types, such as sports stadiums and pubs.
On a more technical level, designing for water services, especially in washrooms, involves a fascinating spectrum of engineered technology, coupled with refinements in architectural qualities and detail. Swiss sanitaryware specialist Geberit (pronounced with a hard ‘g’) excels in this technology – I’d recommend its View magazine, published annually, to appreciate the quality and level of innovation, not only of featured products but also of the projects in which they are showcased.
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Source: Norm Architects
JRA’s Broadgate Quarter demonstrates the skill needed to put its products together with precision and discretion, and enhance them with alluring finishes. The practice’s Fitzwilliam Street development in the City of London will go one step further, with hygienic wall-mounted WCs and sweeping cantilevered trough sinks with the slenderest of leading edges. Vertical supports below these edges would ruin the effect but it’s essential to ensure the stability of frameworks for cantilevered WCs and suitability for heavyweight users who, in certain cultures, may stand on the pans.
These frameworks can either span vertically between structural slabs or be restrained by anchors – these could form horizontal connections to secondary walls that might be blockwork or gypsum board with metal rails. This type of support system, also manufactured by Geberit, can be used to support urinals and cantilevered trough sinks as well.
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Source: Michael Wilds
Source: Michael Wilds
The new generation of flush high-spec cubicles features hairline jointing and minimal recesses at floor and ceiling level, which may be limited by ventilation requirements. Although corner junctions between panels provide stability, don’t forget to look into deflection-resistant head restraints. Unsightly floor pedestals, sometimes used to carry load paths down to slab level, are less common now and, with the right combination of cubicle and floor build-up, it should be possible to spread the weight of the partitions, but it’s advisable to check, especially if there is a void below. Heavy and wobbly cubicles would be unsafe and their doors would get jammed.
Sabi Space Bathroom range by MAP 2
The best washrooms will be able to withstand high traffic levels and remain in good condition for many years, with cubicle systems such as Interplan’s Sylan, for example, underpinned by 10-year guarantees. Ceramicwall tiling should not be allowed to become a weak link: metal trims, available from Schlüter-Systems with multiple finishes, protect external corners and, with visible profiles as slender as 4.5mm, look smart and precise.
‘It’s vital to ensure cantilevered WCs have stable frameworks, which can span vertically or form horizontal connections’
Sabi Space Bathroom range by MAP
YF ARCHITEKTEN COURT OF JUSTICE, EISENSTADT, AUSTRIA
In this court of justice with prison cells, one- and two-bed cells have dedicated sanitary units. Geberit’s touchless electronic urinal flush controls improve hygiene and vandal resistance. The urinal controls are discreetly positioned behind ceramic appliances, concealed from the user’s view, protecting technical components against vandalism. A sensor in the trap detects when the urinal is being used, as well as when the water level is too high or too low. The Sigma10 stainless-steel touchless actuator plates achieve these objectives while looking simple and tidy. They are screw-fixed, without edges that can be gripped by vandals. The automatic flush actuation and dual-flush technology attracted an A-category WELL water efficiency rating.
zIn another sphere, Swiss sanitaryware specialist Laufen has spearheaded innovation ceramics technology with SaphirKeramik, which allows it to form the type of delicate, thin-walled shapes and tight edge radii that, in the past, were usually the province of mineral casting, glass and enamelled steel. Until now, minimum radii in ceramics might be 7-8mm, but SaphirKeramik can go as low as 1-2mm because, while retaining traditional manufacturing processes, it is harder and stronger with more flexural strength. The critical ingredient is corundum, a silicate that is mixed with raw clay, giving SaphirKeramik its brilliant white finish. Thinner ceramic profiles mean reduced weight, lower raw material costs and lower energy consumption in production and transport. Another area of innovation is Krion, a solid engineered surface developed by Systempool, a branch of the Porcelanosa Group. This is warm to the touch and resembles natural stone, comprising 66 per cent aluminium and a low proportion of high-resistance resins. It is non-porous, antibacterial and additive free.
In the realm of fittings design, manufacturers continue to invent new forms, such as the Urban-C basin mixer from Noken, also part of the Porcelanosa Group, which has an open channel instead of a spout. There are also some impressive shower-room systems available from manufacturers that offer the full range of components, from drainage channels to trays, from walling to waterproofing products – but make sure you are covered by the required certification.
‘Thinner ceramic profiles mean reduced weight, lower raw material costs and lower energy consumption’
OMA DE ROTTERDAM, ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS
This is said to be the largest building in the Netherlands, with a height of 150 metres, entailing large vertical movements of drainage water. As project manager Marco Lek of Sanitair Installatie Hoogendoorn explains, conventional drainage was not an option and noise from discharge pipes was a concern. Geberit offered a unique all-round technical system. The drainage system is over 6km long, with multiple connection points.
‘There are 685 toilets in total in the offices and hotel alone’, says Lek. Silent-db20 piping systems were specified to prevent noise emissions in the discharge pipes. Because the upper sections of the towers are slightly offset from those below, the pipes had to be curved where these zones met but also have sufficient capacity for large water flows. These intersections have two 45-degree bends.
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The quality of the pipework was paramount and PE pipes were specified for their impact resistance. With other materials, there is a danger the pipes could burst in such a large project. ‘There was no way we were going to take such a risk’, says Lek. Another quality feature is that PE pipes cannot be damaged, even when the pipes are clogged and have to be cleaned by a plumber. With a drainage system that spans many floors, this is essential.
JOHN ROBERTSON ARCHITECTS BROADGATE QUARTER, LONDON, UK
This remodelling project for developer Hines provides Grade A office space and features new washrooms lined with laminated glass, with interlayers of Swisslamex, which has a golden coated fabric mesh. These shimmering finishes to Maxwood duct panels and vanity splashbacks change their appearance under shifting lighting conditions and from different angles.
Maxwood designed, manufactured and installed washrooms on all reconfigured floors, providing flush-fronted Maranté cubicles with full-height doors manufactured from a high-pressure laminate with a jet black gloss finish. The Maxwall duct panels were tailor-made in Maxwood’s factory and delivered to site in ready-assembled, pre-laminated modular frames to be installed within stud-wall cavities or surface mounted with box-frame units.
The Vola Round series
As well as enabling ease of installation, Maxwall conceals plumbing ducts to toilet cubicles, urinals and vanity units, and creates an upmarket finish.
Maxwood’s trough-style Xeista vanity tops are Glacier White Corian. Vanity mirror units have gas-strut hinges developed by the firm, which enable quick and convenient access to paper towel and soap dispensers for refilling and maintenance.