by sanjeev shankar and FoAM for the WTO's WcCafe Jan/Feb 2008


Toilets have been a source of taboo, embarrassment and humour in many cultures. This project explores the subject of toilets and defecation and aims to bring it out in the open. The intent is to create a cafe which makes toilet discussion a table discussion, thereby giving it legitimacy. ‘WcCafe’ would serve coffee and snacks in an environment which is beautiful, refreshing and purposeful.

It has three main purposes:

First is public awareness and education. The focus is to break the taboo associated with toilets and make it a mainstream discussion.

Second is to create a long term revenue stream for the people/organisations involved in realising the concept: namely, WTO (World Toilet Organisation), FoAM (interdisciplinary design research firm in Brussels) and VWO (voluntary welfare organisations).

Third is to act like a catalyst and trigger a sustainable sanitation movement for the 2.6 billion people globally who do not have access to proper sanitation. It would also act like an informal backdrop to lobby for a pro-sanitation movement through its franchise outlets globally.

brief summary of the cultural, scientific and social context within which the research took place

The research started in New Delhi, India and proceeded through follow up exchanges between the design consultant, Sanjeev Shankar; the producer, FoAM, represented by Maja Kuzmanovic and the client, World Toilet Organisation, represented by Jack Sim. Thereafter, the research base shifted to Singapore where we had site-visits and discussions with the client and the target groups. The project has also been benefited by two meetings between the client and the producer in Paris and Dalian, China.

Geographic location

Singapore is a successful model of rapid growth and transformation in Asia. A dynamic and vibrant city, it is also the home of the World Toilet Organisation (WTO) and the World Toilet College (WTC). WTO is a non-profit organization, established in Singapore in 2001. It communicates the need for better toilet standards in both the developed and developing economies of the world and provides a service platform for all toilet associations, related organizations and committed individuals to facilitate an exchange of ideas relating to health and cultural issues. WTC which was started by WTO in 2005 is a dedicated institution that offers training programs such as Restroom Design Course, Restroom Specialist Training Course and Ecological Sanitation Course. It strives to “change the reality of low image, low morale and low pay toilet cleaners, and train them to become all round managers.”

With its strong economic position, Singapore has often been an attractive place for testing ideas in Asia. Demographically, it is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation with Chinese, Indians and Malays forming the core of the population. These are mostly descendants of immigrants who came to Singapore to take advantage of the economic opportunities made available by the founding of modern Singapore by Raffles in 1819.

Socio Cultural Context

The research has had a global vision. It looks at the taboo associated with sanitation at two levels. First and more importantly, it is applicable to all the regions in the world which need improvement in their basic sanitation standards. These places located mostly in third world countries in Asia and Africa have, abysmally poor sanitation standards and there has been very little effort from the government or private bodies to change the status. People in these parts are constantly exposed to grave risks and often succumb to poor hygienic conditions arising out of this situation. Government apathy, public ignorance and hesitation to confront the topic have often been the main reasons for this situation. Further, lack of basic resources essentially water has also added to the burden. There is a deep link between the prevalent water crisis and the sanitation crises. There is a possibility here for leapfrogging by introducing toilets which use little or no water.

On the other hand the research also explores ways and means to make the sanitation system in the developed world more efficient and sustainable. This has become a growing concern globally with depletion of water resources which is a top priority for most governments.

Though, there have been efforts to address the issue of sanitation, a lot of these are plagued by the nature of this topic and the hesitation to discuss it in the open. This has been observed and discussed with the director of WTO who has witnessed this attitude in varying degrees across different sections of societies in different cultures. The thrust of this research and thereby this project is to use a different approach: an informal, unusual method to raise awareness about sanitation in a well planned, refreshing and strategic manner and thereby direct the benefits arising out of this to improve the situation globally.

description of how the work relates to other works in the field of inquiry

This work explores issues of sanitation, food and hygiene, sustainability and social enterprise. In addition to exploring informal ways in which this subject has been tackled in the past, the work also explores innovative methods of funding and hopes to improvise by creating a business model based on bringing people and companies with common interests together. It further holds great potential to create a precedent for businesses globally to become more ecologically sustainable, socially responsible and monetarily profitable all at the same time. There is further scope for exploring new approaches to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), possibly on the lines of ‘creative commons’. However, this needs to be clarified further in discussion with the producer and the client.

Some of the projects which have dealt with similar fields of inquiry are discussed below:

(1) Sulabh Toilet MuseumItalic Text in New Delhi envisioned by Dr. Brihadeshwara Pathak the founder of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, a pioneering non-profit voluntary organisation in the field of Sanitation in India. The museum is dedicated entirely to the history of toilets and displays their evolution. It also now has a laboratory and carries out research to develop sustainable sanitation solutions for Indian conditions.

It has been established with the following objectives:- (a)To provide information to researchers about the design, materials, and technologies adopted in the past and those in use in the contemporary world; (b)To educate students about the historical trends in the development of toilets; ©To help policy makers to understand the efforts made by predecessors in this field throughout the world; (d)To help the manufacturers of toilet equipment and accessories in improving their products by functioning as a technology storehouse; and (e)To help sanitation experts learn from the past and solve problems in the sanitation sector.

Photograph by Sanjeev shankar

This model rates highly on research, sustainability and social responsibility fronts. However, it is not envisioned as being a source of revenue. It is also located far away from the mainstream crowd in Delhi and holds little novelty to bring the people back. It also serves an educational purpose for both researchers and the public alike.

(2) Toilet restaurant in Taiwan: Marton Theme Restaurant, named after the Chinese word “matong” for toilet, opened in May 2004 in Taiwan's second largest city, Kaohsiung. Conceived by Eric Wang, the restaurant displays toilet seats studded with flowers and shells, colourful bathtubs, faucets, mirrors and shower curtains. The unusual theme is proving a draw for customers eager to eat food off plates and bowls shaped like western loo seats as well as Japanese “squat toilets”. The restaurant is synonymous with laughter and humour and is all set to expand through a franchise business model.

This model rates highly from the profitability angle but does not go beyond being a gimmick. It rates poorly on the social responsibility and sustainability pointers and is certainly not different from other theme restaurants globally. However it does bring people’s fascination with the subject of toilets out into the open.

(3) WC1 on Oxford Street, London is a ladies luxury toilet and powder room. The environment uses curved pebble walls, rich woods, stone floors and a graphic language which supports the theme. The services offered include de-stressing massages and beauty products. Offered to the public at a price of 1 pound the place ranks favourably with the ladies.

The model rates highly from the profitability and service angle. However it fails to go beyond that.

(4) Sketch, London. A theatrical restaurant cum bar, Sketch is a constantly evolving and changing place which engages the people by offering an atmosphere that combines food with video art and music, complete with a gallery, a lecture room, library, parlour and the glade. It is conceived by French master chef Pierre Gagnaire. Photographer_ Rene Chavanne

The image to the left is an interior shot of the toilet in Sketch.


Concise summary of the problem domain that the research explores, or the specific aims of the research undertaken

As stated before, the aim of the project is to design a ‘WcCafe’.

Phase 1 of the project has the following objectives:

  1. To communicate with the producer to define project scope.
  2. To meet the client in Singapore; visit the site and analyse the needs and wishes of the client on a first hand basis.
  3. Information gathering for this project and the field of sanitation in general (on-site, online, literature and interviews).
  4. Research on forms, materials and environmental sustainability
  5. To make a detailed report with proposal for collaborative design which includes: structure, approach, strategy, draft concepts, project duration, budget and team details.

A critical challenge in this project is to explore ways of communicating the subject without it appearing vulgar, disgusting or gimmicky. Further, meaningfully integrating toilet waste into the cafe life-cycle and demonstrating this for people to see the no-waste, sustainable idea is crucial. Exploring different options of urban farming in the form of fragrant orchid gardens with white LEDs or vegetable fields with metal halide spotlights is worth exploring as a direction. For the first franchise, the target audience is from the age of 15 to 35 years and comprises middle class Singaporeans. The café must brand and differentiate itself from the existing café and food outlets in Singapore.

The project has to strike a balance between being monetarily profitable, ecologically sustainable, socially responsible and aesthetically pleasing. The research must be pragmatic and must take into account the underlying practicalities of the situation which includes time constraints, budgetary issues and site constraints. It must be flexible as the concept has to be applied to different franchises in different countries.

Justification of the aims

_ Sanitation is a taboo subject in many cultures and continues to be ignored by the people and governments globally. This project holds the promise of being an innovative informal method to bring out this subject in the open.

_ It is an interesting business model which tries to strike a balance between social responsibility, ecological sustainability and business profitability.

_ Further by establishing a clear relationship between food consumption, hygiene and the topic of sanitation it differentiates itself.

_ There are 2.6 billion people in the world without access to proper sanitation. WcCafe can act as a lobbying point for promoting safe, affordable and sustainable sanitation for this section. Further it can bring forth the need to create sufficient urban toilets globally which are clean, safe and a pleasure to use.

_ By using a leveraging model and by having a strong social development angle, it is in a good position to get support in the form of funding from the government and private sector.

_ It can also act as a source of revenue for WTO, FoAM and VWO.


concise description of the way the research has been developed from establishing the problem definition to the final results

The research started with preliminary discussions between the producer and the design consultant to define the project scope. Thereafter the design consultant built up a series of questions which were used as triggers in the discussion between him and the client and these directly contributed in establishing the problem. The discussions started remotely in New Delhi and then happened in Singapore. They were constantly informed by site visits, interviews and analysis of observations made of successful new business enterprises in Singapore. Some of these questions and the initial responses are listed below:

_ Why bring attention to toilets and excrement? “This is the core of this project. The intent is to make things public; to speak about the unspoken; to bring things out of embarrassment and make it fashionable to talk about and to show the reality to the common man. The focus here is the common man, the human body and its processes.”

_ What is the most crucial role of this platform? “To make toilet discussion a table discussion and to openly discuss toilets, defecation, toilet culture, hygiene and food habits.”

_ Who is the target audience in Singapore? “Middle class, young groups between 15 to 35 years who believe in ‘cheap, fast and good’ products. The price of coffee should be a maximum of 3 dollars. There will be a range of accompanying snacks which will be specified later.”

_ What is the niche market? Who are the stakeholders? “To be tried out on a leverage model. Basic fit out for the first unit to be possibly done on WTO representative Jack Sim’s existing building. Cost for fit out to be borne by interested groups (government / private sector) who will be willing partners. The design will be owned by FoAM and through the first fit out we (WTO and FoAM) will test the idea and thereafter explore franchise options.”

_ Will we look at the broader picture? “Yes. The goal is to create a shift in the minds of people; a switch from the usual perception of toilets.”

_ Will the toilets here be different from those next door? “This is not a prerequisite.”

_ What are the models / types of WcCafe? “We are looking at three models: first is a take away, where the focus is on the exterior skin. Second is based on the existing McCafe model: like an Al Fresco, with 100 to 150 sq ft built up area and a maximum of 4 employees. Open, minimal and simple seating in public space. There is no air-conditioning and people sit for short durations. The story board would look like this: Customer comes; buys a drink and small snack (e.g.: coffee with toast) ; sits ‘one to one’ on a small table and leaves in 15 minutes. Third model is about 500 sq ft; indoor, air-conditioned space. People sitting in micro environments which gives them options with varying levels of privacy. Here the seating space is part of the fit out and the duration of a customer inside the café could go upto 30 minutes.”

The research in Singapore was preceded by a visit to the toilet museum in New Delhi and the launch of the film ‘Fecal Attraction’ along with a detailed study by CSE (centre for science and environment) of the sanitation situation in New Delhi. A brief summary of this film and the study has been included in the references list at the end of this report. In Singapore, the focus gradually shifted from analyzing popular public spaces and interesting business models to exploring possible sites for the WcCafe. A brief study of outlets which come closest to the WcCafe concept was carried out and used as a reference to create a strategy for the WcCafe. We realized that though the project has a unique advantage in being the first of its kind there are two issues which have to be carefully looked at. The first and most crucial issue is that of funding. Further discussions brought out the need to create a clear strategy for procuring funds and inviting possible partners/sponsors for this project from the government and private sector. These discussions also resulted in some innovative ways of raising money from interested groups which will be discussed later in this report. Next was the issue of a physical location for the WcCafe. This was crucial for the project as the three models envisioned for the WcCafe must be tested out in a real space. After numerous visits to places in shopping malls, popular markets and streets in Singapore, it was felt that these too should be explored further especially since it is directly dependent on the funding available for the project. It must be noted that, the client, Jack Sim who is also the director of the World Toilet Organization has offered his place as a possible location to launch WcCafe. However these locations are not suited to the launch of WcCafe and it is therefore suggested that other more mainstream locations with a strong possibility of higher footfall be explored for the same. One of the potential places seen for the café was the ‘Highpoint Social Enterprise Ark’ jointly inaugurated by the MCDYS (Ministry for community development, youth and sports) and the Ministry for trade and Industry. This model currently employs people from VWO (voluntary welfare organization). The site is situated in a DRA (designated red light area) in Singapore and currently houses a restaurant which is reserved for special occasions.

Photograph by Sanjeev shankar

An ideal location for the WcCafe would be a thriving multi cultural place which is an authentic representation of Singapore. China Town is an interesting place for such a café and so are some of the popular shopping malls which are the personification of modern Singapore. We can explore the roof tops of these shopping malls as possible sites. Juxtaposing the old and new can be an interesting approach too. In either case, it goes without saying that the context would be a critical factor in the final design and would closely impact the forms, materials and sustainability issues.

Other possible locations for WcCafe include the Singapore Zoo, Singapore Airport, Sentosa Island, Bird park and the Red Dot Design Museum.

justification of the methodology

The subject of this project demands a sensitized approach. The methodology was crucial to help the design consultant break out of his own prejudices. As a designer one must develop empathy. There needs to be a subconscious shift to be able to create an honest approach right through the process. The topic posed a personal challenge to the designer who was not aware how deep the prejudices ran within his own attitudes towards this topic. He had to live the attitudes of these people and immerse himself to come up with a solution. Visiting the toilet museum in New Delhi; witnessing the detailed research analysis by Centre for Science and Environment and the subsequent trip to Singapore followed by personal discussions with the client were crucial to inform the research and help the consultant appreciate the nuances and demands of the project. Reading the book, ‘The Bathroom’ by Alexander Kiera was a critical experience for the designer to realise the magnitude of this problem. All of this helped to create the right references for this project and enabled the consultant to present a lucid and detailed project report to the producer.


concise description of the actual outcomes of the research

_ WcCafe is an extremely challenging and potentially economically viable project.

_ The project can be a tremendous precedent for responsible and holistic design with a strategic balance between great design, brilliant planning and a positive impact on the environment. It further creates an opportunity for members of voluntary welfare organisations (ex-convicts, drug addicts, prostitutes) to merge with the mainstream and become independent. This gives it strong leverage to get seed funding from government and private organisations.

_ Some of the major challenges to go further into the project are clear strategies on the aspects of funding and physical location. Further, food being the core of any restaurant, the issues of selecting a menu, chef and a restaurant manager would have to be addressed in Phase 2

_ The project uses Singapore as its testing ground and would thus evolve and adapt to suit new locations and cultures

_ The project will have multiple income streams_ (this information has been supplied by the client)

  • Franchise fees
  • Food income
  • Products sales income (souvenirs, cutlery, posters, books, furniture, lamps)
  • Regular sponsorship income
  • Web-site advertisements
  • Donation of fixtures
  • Event sponsorship income through periodical programmes, e.g.
    • Kimberley Clark, toilet paper manufacturer to sponsor: “How to select Toilet Paper?”
    • Pharmaceuticals sponsorships on toilet behaviour and hygiene

(For e.g. wiping from back to front results in vaginal infection)

  • Kotex and Tampax sponsorships on menstruation education
  • Durex sponsorships on use of Condoms and Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Pfizer on Incontinence prevention and identification
  • Health promotion board sponsorship on healthy food diet
  • Telcos to sponsor “How to prevent your hand-phones from dropping into WC and what to do if that happens!”

_ The project is named as “WcCafe”. This would be the global brand name of the project. However, this would be accompanied by tag lines / slogans which would contextualize it and make it region specific.

_ The IPR could be framed on the lines of ‘creative commons’. While the ‘WcCafe’ brand would be protected or at least trademarked, there could be a possibility of creating material and media which can be available for sharing and editing to develop local flavours throughout the franchisees. This would make great sense if the final design proposes to re-cycle used materials from the regions where the Cafe is going to come up. This could be combined with customised products which would fall in a more stringent ‘design rights protected’ category. This needs to be clarified further in discussion with the producer and the client. This would also depend on the final mode of cooperation between the partners.

_ The project is proposed to have three models.

  • First is a take away, where the focus is on the exterior skin.
  • Second is an Al Fresco, with 100 to 150 sq ft built up area and a maximum of 4 employees. Open seating in public space without air-conditioning.
  • Third model is 500 sq ft full fledged indoor, air-conditioned space. The possible location for this model is within shopping malls and popular markets

_ In Singapore, the project on the whole does not have a comparable business model. However, as a café outlet it can draw references from the hawkers and other prominent outlets in shopping malls and popular markets: ‘Ya Kun Kaya Toast’; ‘Food Republic’; ’McCafe’; ‘Old Chang Kee’; ‘Jollibean’; ‘Ben & Jerry’s’; ‘Dian Xiao Er’. These models are crucial from the overall positioning, branding, advertisement, pricing, management, interior design, menu and public reaction point of view. Further, they all have a loyal client base and continue to thrive in an ever growing market.


  • Hawkers’_ People in Singapore are sensitive to price and taste. In the words of a common man, a Singaporean prefers products which are “cheap, good and easy”. Singapore has an efficient system for hawkers. There are clearly demarcated spaces which are regulated by the government for this activity. Popular with the rich and middle class alike, people frequent these places in huge numbers. Recently there have been efforts to decongest highly dense hawking areas and move them to newer locations.
  • Ya Kun Kaya Toast’_ Started in 1944 by Loi Ah Koon, this outlet is an interesting traditional model which has recently been rebranded. Popular with franchise outlets all over the country, this remains a strong reference point for WcCafe.
    • This model has mainly two types. Type 1 has about 6 to 7 employees with approximately 400 sq ft built up area. The seating is part of the space which is air conditioned. Type 2 is based on the McCafe model with 100 to 150 sq ft. built up and maximum of 4 employees. The seating is open type and non air-conditioned.
    • One of the strongest points of this outlet is its menu and pricing. It offers a simple list of drinks (mainly coffee and tea) with a variety of snack combinations (mostly variations in toast).
    • The pricing remains affordable. Tea and coffee range between $1.10 to $1.90 and toasts range between $1.40 to $1.70. It also has customised packaged products on offer which range from $4.00 to $9.00. However these are not as popular.
    • The average seating time of a customer in both the models is 15-20 minutes and they are based on self service.
  • Food Republic’_ This is one of the most successful outlets in Singapore, which is synonymous with being modern, sleek and clean. A nation where everything is about being orderly and precise ‘Food Republic’ offers a respite. It is inspired by the lack of the ‘old’ in the lives of Singaporeans who find themselves in a peculiar situation of being without their past, their heritage and their roots. This concept uses the cold environment of a shopping mall to create a bustling street within it; the shops are made of worn out pieces of old doors and windows which have been brought down from China. The entire fit out from branding, interior furniture and signage to cutlery and utensils takes you back in time and creates a chaotic yet informal ambience. The space, which in all its essence is a beautiful package of road side vending culture is given out to different owners who specialise in authentic traditional cuisine of their region. Though on the expensive side owing to its physical location, people love coming to this place and experience the unique ambience created by balancing the old and new. It is a good example of ‘differentiating’ your business model in a competitive region.
  • McCafe’_ Started by McDonald’s as a dedicated outlet for coffee, this is an efficient model for a cafe. The client has often sited this in his discussions as a trigger for the ‘WcCafe’ name and proposes this as a reference model. However it pales in comparison to the above two models. It also does not respond to the local culture and remains a westernised import in this region.
  • Old Chang kee’ and ‘Jollibean’ : These models are similar to the Ya Kun Kaya Toast model. While Old Chang Kee focuses on selling popular Chinese and Malaya snacks, Jollibean focuses on selling varied types of drinks. Both the models are based on the Al Fresco type with a maximum of 3 to 4 employees and 100 to 150 sq ft built up space. While the former did not have seating provision in most cases the latter had non air-conditioned open type seating system in public space.

As an outlet based on the theme of sanitation, WcCafe can draw references from the toilets at the Singapore Zoo and Sentosa Island. The focus in both the cases has been nature, water, natural materials and natural light. With a cascade of water as the key element along with beautiful views of the forest, the toilets at the Singapore zoo stand out as simple, elegant and refreshing. The use of wood, stone, ceramic, rattan, bamboo, thatch and mirror has been maximised though the cubicles leave immense scope for improvement. One emerges from the toilet with the sound of falling water and an image of ‘green’ clearly etched in the mind. Based on an open system and high on natural ventilation, a visit to this toilet is highly recommended. This model again can be a great source of inspiration from the overall positioning point of view.

Design directions

  • The slogan provided by the client is “The Natural Thing”.
  • This project gives us an opportunity to seamlessly connect food; the act of eating and drinking to the act and place of defecation. We could perhaps introduce cycles of growth and decay in nature and demonstrate the use of urine and faeces as a potential raw material for various purposes. Body wastes are, for example, a dependable, readily available raw material that possess valuable properties and can be used in a wide variety of ways. The most common and universal use of faecal matter has been in the form of fertilizer. Urine, on the other hand has been one of mankind’s oldest forms of “soap” apart from having a number of medicinal uses and being used for fixing dyes in cloth.

One of the keys to the design process could be, establishing a strong relationship with nature and natural elements which in this case could be natural light, water and flora. It would be to convey the idea of life, growth, fertility and freshness. It is to get down to the basics of survival and existence and promoting the abundance of this existence, when connected to the natural world. This thought would then become our guiding principle. If we take the case of water and explore the numerous ways in which it manifests itself we realise the potential of this route. Cycles of water and solids might be an interesting avenue to explore. People would associate the place with the fluidity of water, the freshness of dew drops and the lightness of steam. On the other hand we can closely explore the use of light and combine it with shadows and silhouettes, to use it as a defining element. It can be strategically used to identify spaces within the café and create different private and public zones. This is often seen as a strong experiential element to demarcate private, intimate spaces from more public, social places in different cultures.

One could explore the possibility of associating the image of toilets with a unique fragrance which could be specifically created for the café. The fragrance may remind us of a jungle washed with warm rain and which has a hint of floral scent contributed by the organic plants inside, where waste and perfume are intimately intertwined and smell fresh and fertile. This has the potential to become a brand driver. Further developing an overall brand language is important to develop a strong bond with the people. This should thread right through the brand experience: the food, drinks, visual language, aural language, product language and spatial language.

  • Exploring a mix and match, reuse strategy by creating a layered and multidimensional approach. By juxtaposing old and new elements from the field of food and sanitation we can strategically differentiate the final design solution. The colour scheme and material composition could act as the unifying element. As has been seen in the case of the ‘Food Republic’ this can be successful in a region like Singapore, which is synonymous for modern development. This can be an interesting approach especially since we are increasingly being surrounded by contexts which are totally detached from our past. The notion of ‘old’ in all its appearances can be used to complement the idea of ‘new’. For example the smooth waxy whiteness of corian material is greatly highlighted by combining it with the old worn out, textured look of timber; which could be in washed out, refreshing shades of fresh green or aqua blue or we could explore combining corian with rust. Exploring bi-cultural and multi-cultural design identities is therefore a viable route for this project and an apt response for a multi-cultural place like Singapore. By introducing tiny local elements from the place and its culture we can create a coherent and unique whole. This could act as an important trigger and unique differentiator between different franchises in different countries.
  • Recontextualising the elements by giving a new role to them and thereby giving it a new meaning, value and purpose can be another layer in this solution. This would contribute to changing the public perception and result in multiple associations in the mind of a common man. For example: Playing with the motif of a ‘pipe’, inspired by the drain pipes and water supply pipes used in bathrooms. The key would be to weave this motif into the design vocabulary and create an iconic image which would be a cross between an exposed modern machine look of a pompidou and the traditional, oriental look of china town. Further, the use of local vernacular products and repositioning them in the café to create an “installation” look and feel can be explored. This could range from human powered vehicles, oriental carts, pottery, spinning wheels to actual water closet modules themselves.
  • forms, materials, environmental sustainability and initial sketches

Form and materials are interrelated and contribute directly to a sustainable solution. These also go closely with decisions related to colour and texture. While a lot of these issues will be more resolved as the project moves into Phase 2 and 3 and there is greater clarity about funding and final site selection, the following suggestions are more to create a consistent image and adhere to the broader vision of the project. Form

We would like to think that good forms are not invented, but discovered or rediscovered. The customary objects found in a bath house such as wooden casks, bath tubs, water closets, sinks and pails would provide the core inspiration for the forms. The approach would be to draw on these objects and translate their forms in such a way that people engage with the magic of cleansing again. Water in all its manifestations will further add a magical feel to the response.

WcCafe in Singapore will be an elegant example of the classical play of the line and the curve, hand craft and machine output, old and new, the solid and the liquid, light and dark. While it will provide an atmosphere of intimacy, it will be a restaurant completely unlike any other, always personal, meaningful and unexpected. It will be honest, buoyant and radiant. It will celebrate the human form, highlighting aspects of fertility, growth and nourishment. White and black/grey zones will be accentuated with bold strokes of aqua blue and aqua green. Reflected light patterns and video footage of abstracted water, mist and steam will add a touch of dynamic play. Human scents will complete the experience with the freshness of fragrant orchids. Some of the images which capture this essence are shown here.

This project would be incomplete without exploring the ‘human’ in all its relations to the act of cleansing. The human body and its processes is central to the project. The images /sculptures would be made region specific, for e.g. in the Singapore branch they would have oriental features. The figures would rightly be in various states of cleansing (washing, bathing, defecating, urinating etc) which challenge our assumptions and introduce the sacred aspect of the human body in a refreshing way. Photographic analysis of wet human forms (skins and textures) could be an interesting option. Combining these forms with those belonging to the bathhouse can result in an interesting juxtaposition.

Initial sketches

The act of defecation and cleansing is central to this project. The word ‘WC’ brings up the image of the ‘hole’, the ‘void’ in all its various shapes. The profile of the hole and the functional necessity of it being in the form of a receptacle are worth exploring.


The choice of the material will be driven by the cost and availability on one hand and by issues of form, texture, colour, sustainability and aesthetics. 

The colour white will be explored through both found, reused objects and customised hand crafted objects. This will be combined with transparent and fluid materials and shades of grey to form the first level of material composition. Some of these materials would be Ceramics, porcelain, water resistant wood, bamboo, white river stones, marble, sandstone, textured fabric, Corian, LG Hi-Macs, exposed concrete surface, glass fibre reinforced concrete (GFRC), glass, acrylic, polycarbonate, fibre glass, polished metallic surfaces (e.g. Glaverbell), white LED’s and fluorescent light walls. We will further have a second layer of accent materials to complement the base layer.


We've finally reached a tipping point where being "green" or sustainable is not a choice, but a priority for both individuals and organizations. This thought must be assimilated throughout the process from pre construction stage to final operation and maintenance and through different levels (Architecture, interiors, product development, branding, advertising, food services and overall functioning). People will associate WcCafe with its makers. The idea of green must be seen even in the work culture of the visionaries who created WcCafe. We must finally create a network in which every participant: the partners, customers and service providers: all are compelled to engage in a discussion of sustainability and become role models for a new reverence for life.

The idea of sustainability is a constantly evolving one. Our systems and values are changing, and so are our needs and responsibilities. We need to adapt and create solutions which end the cycle of designed obsolescence and excessive waste in favour of designs that incorporate ideas like ‘upcycling’ instead of recycling and reuse instead of waste. We must closely look at issues of incremental improvements, iterative change and cumulative development. We must be on the constant look out for local solutions, minimising environmental impact from initial prototyping and manufacturing processes to gradually developing an efficient structure to sustain the project over an extended duration.

Ecological design starts with looking at the site’s ecosystem and its properties. Any design that does not take these aspects of the site into consideration is essentially not an ecological approach. Some other critical aspects which are of importance for a green solution include the envelope design, the services design, integration of renewable energy sources to generate energy on site, water and waste management(recycling), selection of ecologically sustainable materials (with high recycle content and low emission potential of VOC’s) and creating a comfortable internal environment. Energy consumption is indeed a crucial issue and any energy saving effort would be climate dependant. Therefore, the aim would be to meet the energy norms of the given area/location. The amount of energy a building would consume would also depend on the envelope (including window, wall and roof details) design, kind of insulation used, etc. Use of solar passive measures including daylighting to reduce the demand on conventional energy for space conditioning and lighting systems in buildings is recommended.

If the WcCafe is housed in a shopping mall, material selection may be limited to ensure user comfort. However, the importance of HVAC and lighting solutions to achieve environmental and user benefits becomes extremely crucial here. Water efficiency is an equally important aspect.

Some of the materials which rank high on sustainability include bamboo, GFRC with dry polishing (glass fibre reinforced concrete which has lower embodied energy than normal concrete owing to use of glass fibres rather than steel), clay, ceramics, porcelain, cork (, hemp, organic cotton, high volume fly ash concrete blocks and bricks, FSC certified wood (, recycled/recovered/found glass, metal, rubber, lumber, natural fibre boards (maplex), products using industrial waste, low VOC(volatile organic compounds) paints, adhesives and sealants, light weight pre-cast concrete blocks, rat trap masonry etc. A lot of these decisions are directly based on the site and local suppliers.

By demonstrating waste management through the use of eco toilets: urine diverting toilets, composting toilets, dehydration toilets and eco-stations the project would aim to become a source of awareness and education for people. It would play an important role in encouraging an incremental change in the way we think and behave. Ecological sanitation involves treating human waste (both urine and excreta) as a resource, sanitising them and then recycling the nutrients for use in various forms, e.g. as fertiliser for plants.

The nutrients in urine are in forms which are readily plant available. The nitrogen is in the form of urea, which readily degrades to ammonium and nitrate that both are plant available. The phosphorous is mainly in the form of phosphate ions, the potassium in the form of potassium ions and the sulphate in the form of sulphate ions. This means that they all are in forms which readily are taken up by plants. This makes urine a unique biologic fertiliser. Urine is a complete fertiliser with high concentrations of plant available nitrogen. The fertilising response is especially good for crops which normally are very limited by the supply of nitrogen. Examples of such crops are cereals like maize, rice, millet, sorghum and wheat. Also, vegetables like chard, turnip, carrots and cale ought to give a good response and so should fruits and bushes, like banana, paw-paw, oranges, tea and coffee. It is recommended, not to primarily fertilise crops known to be sensitive to ammonia (like beans and clover), nitrite, sodium or chloride (like Irish potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries and cucumber), which also are prevalent in fairly high concentrations in urine.

Case Study: TepozEco project, Mexico

This project is a functioning example of urban ecological sanitation, including household eco-toilets, a system of communal collection of organic refuse, greywater and organic solid waste management, eco-stations for the secondary treatment of toilet output (urine and dehydrated faeces), and recycling of nutrients for urban agriculture. The technologies, which have been applied in the project, include urine-diverting dehydration toilets with a dehydrating chamber with two large plastic recipients, a urine collecting container, a vent pipe and fly trap.

Low cost shallow pit composting sanitation system prototypes were also installed for poor peri-urban and rural populations (using the arborloo and fossa alterna systems pioneered initially in southern Africa) as well as public and institutional waterless male and female urinals. Reed-bed or mulch greywater filtering systems for mechanical and biological treatment, and rainwater harvesting and filtering systems with sedimentation and volcanic gravel filtration were constructed. To promote urban agriculture and nutrient recycling, a cultivation technique called organoponics was introduced. It works in any type of container or garden bed, which is mostly filled with compacted dry leaves, soaked with fermented human urine, and topped with a layer of soil to produce vegetables and aromatic plants. The introduction of a reuse system of organic residues in this urban context is seen as a strategy for recovering and recycling valuable nutrients to support local agricultural production and to stimulate self-reliance. An additional aim is to conserve water, considering the increasing amount of tourism in the municipality. The work of the TepozEco project to date has in many cases resulted in the integration of dry toilets into households and a demystification of human waste for use as a fertiliser. Possibilities of recycling abound. However, to integrate these on site and existing space is a challenge. Especially if the site is inside a shopping mall where the cost of unit area is extremely high, one will have to do a feasibility study.

  • description and suggestions around the collaboration processItalic Text

- WTO's role is as follows:

  • Get seed funding and exploring partnerships
  • Finalise the site location, site plan and footprint
  • Make strategies, marketing and business management for business development, possible partners/stake holders, media publicity, creating domain knowledge, monitoring/ financial controlling and creating the perfect context for the execution and fit out of the project.

- FoAM's role

  • To design, visualise and execute the entire design concept. Careful thought to be given to possible customization for each out-let and initial on-site supervision at execution stage. To create comprehensive design package which can help raise funds for the project. According to the client, there is a very strong likelihood to receive at least $200000 from the Singapore government for this project. The amount of funding would be a crucial factor in deciding the final outcome of this project.
  • To brand the concept (visual/aural branding, sensory communication). The complete list of requirements would be directly related to the seed funding for the project
  • Responsible for constant up grading and improvisation of the ambience
  • Team composition_ branding strategist (1), graphic designer (1), interior designer (1), creative (1) and project coordinator (1). The project would also need input from new media and lighting designer.

- Heart Foundation's role (the partnership is under review since heart foundation has recently withdrawn)

  • To provide operational support in the form of staff and running the place. They will also provide nutritional information and work with WTO on funding.

The above mentioned role is to be detailed further before the signing of the contractual agreement between the partners. The crucial issue of deciding the menu and choice of the chef/staff composition is still to be decided.

_ Mode of Cooperation

 _ A three way split of the profits between WTO, FoAM and the Heart Foundation
 _ After deducting the cost of the site, a three way split of the remaining budget with the amounts going towards material cost, installation cost and design/prototyping cost with a 15% contingency and miscellaneous budget
  • suggestions for the future work based on the conclusions of the research

Phase 1 (April - September 2007): - FoAM: delivers a concept document, research report and a temporary logo - WTO - Contract negotiations and draft contract - Heart foundation - funding applications

Phase 2 (October - December 2007): - FoAM will draft the design specification (two designers, and the use of facilities at FoAM vzw in Brussels. Design session in Brussels from October 25th to November 6th) - WTO and the Heart foundation look for sites in Singapore - this will have significant impact on the design - Meeting between all partners in Singapore in early December, with presentation of the design concept and finalising contract

Phase 3 (January - May 2008)

- FoAM's designers work in Singapore and in Brussels on implementing the design and supervising manufacturing where required (for this it might be a good idea to work with students and volunteers) - WTO provides (or helps organise) a working and living space for Sanjeev from December 2007

Phase 4 (June 2008) - Installation and launch of first WcCafe


  • Literature used in the research (books, magazines, journals, URLs…)


  • The Bathroom by Alexander Kira

Summary: The Bathroom, was first published in 1966. The book was written for students and architects, but there's enough history and social aspects and humorous asides that anyone with an interest in tub angles, urine streams or public restroom design will appreciate it. The author sets out to examine “our attitudes toward personal hygiene activities and the facilities we use to accommodate them; our basic physiological requirements; our patterns of performing the necessary actions; and the development of design criteria to fulfil those needs.” He begins by tracing the history of “personal hygiene facilities,” noting that bathing has traditionally been a public activity. Kings, princes and queens often asked subjects to accompany them to the john so they could continue conversations while on the second throne (“the French courtesy”). He examines the notion of what it means to be clean and why we feel it's so important (in early Christian times, dirt was a badge of holiness). He discusses why North Americans have rejected the European bidet as a way to clean the anus after defecation, and says that rejection wouldn't have been such a big deal if only we were better at wiping ourselves. He cites a study of British men that found that nine percent were not wearing underpants and 44 percent “revealed faecal contamination of their underpants or trousers, ranging from 'wasp-coloured staining' to 'frank massive faeces.'” The study's author concludes wryly that many men are “prepared to complain about a tomato sauce stain on a restaurant tablecloth whilst they luxuriate on a plush seat in their faecally-stained pants.” The author doesn't recommend the common dry wipe since you don't get all the faecal matter, especially with people with an abundance of butt hair. The preferred method is the bidet, or using wet towelettes or cleansing foams marketed to hemorrhoid sufferers. The author observes and chronicles the dynamics of everyday action with extreme precision. Here's an extract: “The body should be in a relaxed vertical position and the hands should be manipulated just in front of the body, with the upper arm vertical and the forearm extended horizontally. During the wetting and rinsing part of the process the hands are generally held slightly lower to prevent water from running down the arm and slightly further forward to prevent any water from splashing on clothing.” The problem with all this is that modern bathroom sinks are too low for this ideal posture. Kira suggests a redesign, then tackles tubs (the sitting angle found to be most comfortable is 25 to 40 degrees, so designers should work from there). Once the hardware is out of the way, he delves into the core reasons behind bathrooms: poo and pee. If you're looking for science that affects people's everyday lives, this is it. “For the male, little is said about genitourinary hygiene, and little is ever done. Several matters, however, deserve attention. One is the blotting of the penis after urination — and after 'jiggling' — to remove those last drops of urine that otherwise are absorbed by the clothing. Contrary to the age-old and universal jingle: 'No matter how much you jiggle and squeeze, those last few drops always go down your knees!', more times than not those last few drops are simply absorbed by the underwear and soak through the trousers, particularly if they are tight-fitting.” This is an age-old problem for men. In Chapter 8, Social and Psychological Aspects of Elimination, Kira tackles slang about bathrooms and defecation, potty training, the uses of urine and faeces, toilet humour, bathrooms in art and why we read on the john. “…faeces are both an abject and a part of the individual, who is prone to identify with them….. It is thus that young children exhibit a fear of defecating because the act is equivalent to the relinquishment of a part of themselves…. In adults one observes not infrequently that this fear has persisted and merely led to a modification of the procedure, attenuating the loss through delay: they inspect excrement before flushing it down.” According to Kira, “tensions produced by guilt or ugliness associated with the act will prevent completion. One common method to take our mind off the act is reading.” Kira delights in providing plenty of facts. We learn that the average adult faece is 4 to 8 inches long, weighs 100 to 200 grams and contains (according to the textbook Gastro-Enterology) 65 percent water, 10 to 20 percent ash, 10 to 20 percent soluble substances and 5 to 10 percent nitrogen. It is best released from your body from a squatting position, with your thighs touching or almost touching your abdomen, but most toilets are not designed for this and most people can't squat as long as it takes for a complete bowel movement. Peeing is covered in Chapter 11, Anatomy and Physiology of Urination, which includes photos of urine streams and men and women urinating in what looks like a shower but has measurement grids on the walls. Next, the history of public toilets (many people have an aversion to open-ended seats — the “man's seat” — designed so the dribble doesn't end up where the next guy might sit). Kira discusses urinal spacing in detail, and the habit guys have of leaving an empty urinal between them so no one thinks they're gay. And he also discusses in great detail the female practice of hovering to avoid touching the disease-ridden seat. As Kira explains, this usually only creates a mess.

  • Research text from Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi on sanitation conditions in India

Sewage Canal: How to Clean the Yamuna

The book analyses the strategies adopted to clean up the Yamuna, one of India's holiest and dirtiest rivers. Rivers in India can be cleaned up if we rethink and re-engineer water and sewage management programmes. It chronicles the state of the river as it passes through populated towns and cities. It analyses the strategies adopted to clean it up and lessons learnt about river management. The case of the Yamuna is not unique. It is a poster child of the failure of India’s river action plans. The book argues that rivers in India can be cleaned up provided we can rethink and re-engineer water and sewage management programmes. Chapter 1: All dead rivers tell tales Chapter 2: And polluted flows a quiet Yamuna Chapter 3: Action taken: still chasing plan targets Chapter 4: Upstream and downstream of Delhi Chapter 5: The Delhi stretch: a drain capital Chapter 6: Needed: a River Action Plan for Yamuna Chapter 7: The political economy of water and waste: reworking river action plans

  • Promotional documents from Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, New Delhi, India
  • ‘Smarter Sanitation – How to clean up your sanitation and wastewater mess’, electronic toolkit by Asian Development Bank



  • Faecal Attraction

A brief extract of the film can be seen at

Extract of article titled ‘Dirty reality’ by Annie Zaidi in The Frontline magazine

Faecal Attraction treats a serious subject with a sense of fun, especially when the issue is as intimate as people's flushing habits. Screened recently in New Delhi, the film takes an unflinching view of sewage - what it is doing to our rivers and what it might soon do to our cities. The 32-minute film opens with a dark screen and a dialogue between two roadside defecators - with much banter and little embarrassment about the act itself or the hygiene associated with toilet activities. It then cuts to an obviously posh toilet with expensive fittings and the ambient noise of a hundred flushes, and leads to the Yamuna river, reduced to a gutter thanks to all the millions of gallons of filth that is poured into it. The trouble with urban sewage is that few people are closely linked to the source of the water they use or the way in which the sewage is disposed of. In both cases, it is often the nearest river: in Delhi, the Yamuna, the very river into which more than Rs.2,400 crore has been poured already as part of the Yamuna Action Plan. The film captures the awful conditions in which Delhi’s drains are cleaned, by workers who wear no protection and carry only a spade, as well as a verbal battle between residents and the local MCD contractor.

Part of the sewage debacle can be attributed to the unregulated use of groundwater in cities. The municipal authorities have apparently no clue how to monitor water usage. An attempt was made to do so by measuring the volume of drains: a tragic-comic effort that the film-maker, Pradip Saha, puts in perspective. With images of pilgrims at rivers and resounding chants, the film points to the fact that water is worshipped across India. Yet, things are no different even in Varanasi, the most sacred Hindu city where sewage accounts for 95 per cent of the pollution in the Ganga. The film traces the flow from the time a toilet is flushed, using 10 to 12 litres of water, through the drain and to the sewage treatment plants (STPs). Each of the17 STPs in Delhi spends between Rs.5 and 10 lakh to treat one million gallons of sewage; they totally get about 375 million gallons a day. Even so, 45 per cent of the city remains unsewered, and the sewage untreated.

The expense is partly because the STPs have been built far away from the source of sewage, which has to be pumped through pipelines over long distances. Miles and miles of pipes have been bought but lie unused. Once the sewage is treated, the clean water is routed back into the drains - the very drains that carry raw sewage. Much of this filthy water eventually finds its way into the river. The STPs also consume huge amounts of electricity, which is scarce. Yet, this is one area of concern where there is little innovation or research towards creating alternative models. Increasingly, rivers are tapped and blocked upstream and the polluted water is dumped downstream. This is in keeping with the character of the upwardly mobile new India, which wants more and more resources but is not bothered about environmental or social consequences. In the words of the film, modern, urban India wants not only to flush and forget but to flush and forget in style. The irony in the scene that follows can only evoke baffled laughter. Inside a sanitary ware showroom, a salesperson introduces us to “three and six litre dual flush system”, a western commode imported from Switzerland, another from Italy, from England and from France. One costs Rs.86,000 and another Rs.98,000 “excluding the tap”. A gushing stream of water turns to a slight gurgle and then to an excruciatingly slow drip. Meanwhile, elsewhere, the chaos around a water tanker is already turning into a battle. This is not in a slum but in a regular, middle-class colony.

Yet, urban India rarely spares a thought for water or sewage. Towards the end, the camera approaches the city inhabitants across all ages and classes to ask them where their water comes from and where their excreta goes. Most people react with a mixture of nonchalance and embarrassment. Their answers range from “I don't know” to “It [water] just doesn't come” and the hilarious “I don't do anything, everything happens automatically”. The film maker, however, does not stop at pointing to an obvious problem. He has got another short film that offers solutions. Clean Up Your Act - A Guide to Sewage Treatment is filled with information about the components of sewage and alternative models of non-centralised systems. Improved septic tanks are a good idea where there are no sewer lines. There are several places in the country where communities or institutions have taken advantage of natural microbial processes such as aerobic and anaerobic decomposition. In addition to biocatalysts, depending on the space available, the partially clean water can be lead to open ponds, gardens, fields and floating islands, which clean it even further. This helps in agriculture and adds to the green cover in the city. There is no reason why similar methods cannot be used elsewhere. All that people need to do is stop treating their faeces as somebody else's problem.

  • Media used in the research (film, audiovisual media, photographs…)

Photographs and film (Sony DSC H2)

  • wccafe_report.txt
  • Last modified: 2014-02-21 04:26
  • by nik