From an iconic lattice canopy for international coffee chain Starbucks to the Odunpazari Museum of Modern Art in Turkey and Denmark’s soon-to-be-opened Hans Christian Andersen museum, Japanese designer Kengo Kuma is well known for expertly transforming a humble material — wood — into striking feats of architecture. His practice’s latest loo for the Tokyo Toilet project — a city-wide modernization of public facilities by the country’s leading architects like Tadao Ando, Fumihiko Maki, Shigeru Ban and more — is no different.
Enclosed in a forest of splayed cedar modules, the new public washroom replaces an older brick-clad structure in southern Shibuya City. Fittingly named “A Walk in the Woods,” the louvres expertly complement and elevate the lush greenery of the verdant Nabeshima Shoto Park.
Emphasizing this botanical narrative, the architect separated the lavatory into five individual pavilions at two elevations, interspersed with winding pathways and staircases that connect back to the meandering corridors of the park. “I designed the path that creates a line of flow,” Kuma says, “with the hope of offering a total experience that encompasses the surrounding environment as well as the structures.”
This experience is not only relegated to the toilet’s formal organization. As with the eight other completed structures (17 in total are planned), Kuma’s edifice is deliberately inclusive, providing ample room for a variety of users to safely find relief in his self-described “public toilet village.” “Unlike conventional public washrooms,” the architect adds, “these are unique in that they can be used by a diverse range of people.”
For instance, one of the quintets is designed specifically for children while another is conceived for those in need of a quick outfit change. The level adjustment also means that the two main loos provide ample room for wheelchair users, elderly visitors or those with other mobility concerns. Safety features inside — including generous circulation space and integrated grab bars — are accented by additional wooden elements that encase the mirrors.
At night, integrated lighting washes the randomly placed, live-edge elements in a subtle glow that also illuminates the sinous walkway, creating a charming new beacon welcoming to all.
The Japanese architect’s charming cedar loo is a “public toilet village” fit for Shibuya City’s Nabeshima Shoto Park.