Public toilets, or conveniences as they are often called, are anything but convenient in design or function. Anywhere in the world, an essential amenity such as a public toilet is mostly uninviting in ambience and purely utilitarian in function, and rarely a place where one can seriously find some respite, or rest and recover.
There’s no reason why toilet blocks constructed as public conveniences should be modelled along the lines of a sturdy bomb shelter rather than a comfort station for people needing to carry out a very private bodily function. Instead of a place where they can refresh themselves with dignity, they get barely bearable structures with a mostly seedy atmosphere as if their basic needs are being grudgingly accommodated. Forget being delighted with the experience; count yourself lucky if the convenience actually works.
It’s hard to find public conveniences that have invested in good design. A typical public amenity is usually economically laid out in terms of space and fittings. It’ll be a good day if both ventilation and lighting are functional.
The increasing focus on people with disabilities and their right to an accessible environment has resulted in the introduction of universal toilets that are designed with a spacious layout to accommodate wheelchair users. However, public toilets are often the target of vandals, resulting in basic fittings such as hooks and door latches becoming unusable. Imagine placing your bag on a wet toilet floor or washbasin counter, or trying to use the toilet or basin with a bag in your arms.
Even public toilets with a new-age design complete with automated controls can be hard to use if you cannot understand what the control panel is trying to indicate.
But does using a public convenience have to be such an unpleasant experience?
Not exactly, if one were to follow the example of Singapore’s Changi Airport where thoughtful design combined with an understanding of the user’s needs has led to what is perhaps, one of the best public toilet experiences in the world.
The large, spacious and clean toilets even allow wheelie cases to be effortlessly brought into the cubicle. Maintenance in real-time ensures the toilets are always clean and smelling fresh. Instead of impersonal spaces, the toilets offer a welcome respite with users even getting an opportunity to look at lush tropical gardens while using a urinal.
There’s a lot that city councils all over the world can learn from Singapore.