You learn a lot about a building from its washrooms. Newport Street Gallery won the Stirling Prize, but the others in the running had loos to feel flush about too
Outhouse, Forest of Dean
Loyn & Co Architects
Everything about Outhouse, a home and studios for two artists, is geared towards maximising its fantastic setting in the Forest of Dean while having minimum impact on such a sensitive rural location. This approach includes the washroom strategy, which allows the client to enjoy the magnificent views of the Wye Valley even from the bathtub.
Outhouse has two washrooms plus a stand-alone bath in the middle of the bedroom in the south west corner of the building. Here the site falls away, ensuring that the highly glazed bedrooms are not overlooked from the garden.
According to project architect James Stroud, the decision to locate the bath as an object in the bedroom was driven by the client’s wish not to disturb the rest of the house when she takes a bath very early in the morning. At the same time, the location in front of the triple-glazed bedroom window allows her to take in the splendid view while she bathes.
With such a prominent bath, its specification was critical, according to the architect.
‘There was no question of a traditional roll-top cast iron bath. The building is obviously a contemporary building and we wanted furniture and fitting out to be the same,’ says Stroud.
Together, architect and client specified the distinctively shaped, solid surface Delicata Slipper Bath by BC Designs, chosen for both its aesthetics and excellent temperature-retention.
‘It is very tactile and lovely to touch,’ says Stroud of the matt finish Cian material.
Another factor was its 680mm height, which enables the client to step in easily with the help of a small step, and its short length – 1520mm rather than more usual 1700mm or 1750mm – which allows a sitting-up position for a comfortable long soak. The bath sits on the engineered timber flooring with an adjacent standalone, hand-held Vola shower fitting.
The washroom outside the two main bedrooms includes a toilet, bidet and two basins as well as a shower. The latter is designed as a walk-through shower with a frameless glass wall and a concealed slot drain. Users exit the shower close to the window, where they can look onto the house’s large earth courtyard, one of four at the house. Sanitaryware is by Laufen, including products from the Kartell range.
Another washroom in the rear half of the house is built into the hillside to limit impact on the landscape. Positioned next to the utility room off the main ‘gallery’ corridor that runs through the building, this serves the adjacent guest bedroom as well as the rest of the house. Clerestory windows get light into these rear rooms and give views up the hillside. This wet room is similar in design and fittings to the main washroom, minus the walk-through shower.
Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford
Herzog & de Meuron
Washrooms are a much more important element of a building than is generally given credit for, according to Herzog & de Meuron, which designed the Blavatnik facilities to reflect the calm palette of white and grey tones found throughout the postgraduate building.
‘Over the course of a day, it is likely that every single user will visit these spaces. It is paramount that each has an equally good experience; one of comfort, privacy and convenience,’ says the architect.
The School accommodates 48 units, strategically located according to occupancy needs and taking advantage of areas least likely to benefit from natural daylight and solar gain. They also work as a screen to give privacy to Somerville College’s neighbouring halls of residents.
Washrooms are generally divided by gender to accommodate and respect the variety of backgrounds and beliefs of the user group. There are also nine accessible facilities and two bathrooms, which are unisex.
Banks of washrooms are located off the main circulation corridors in the north-east sector of every upper floor, with additional washrooms next to the cafeteria and in the basement. Here, facilities include cubicles near the lecture theatres as well as changing and shower facilities.
The monochrome design combines black painted steel doors, vanity tops and cubicles, with hexagonal mosaic wall tiling, white sanitaryware and grey flooring tiling. Above the bespoke vanity units, a full height mirror extends to a suspended ceiling that has a light slot detail that conceals the air extract plenum.
‘A balance between white, grey and black elements maintains visual contrast, while providing a calm environment,’ says Herzog & de Meuron.
Sustainability was a particular priority, with the emphasis on specifying high quality products, materials and workmanship and designing with maintenance in mind. This meant an increased requirement for access panels including a routed panel detail, developed by the architect in collaboration with the contractor, that interfaces with the distinctive geometry of the Domus mosaic tiles.
Weston Library, Oxford
The key driver for the refurbishment of the celebrated New Bodleian (now Weston) Library designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in the 1930s, was the desire to allow more public access and engagement with the activities going on inside.
This had major implications for the washrooms, which needed to be significantly increased in number and made wheelchair accessible. WilkinsonEyre aimed to achieve this while respecting the grade II listed fabric.
To suit the demographic of the users, the architect decided to retain a gender divide rather than create unisex washrooms, with the exception of the accessible facilities that are provided on each floor. WilkinsonEyre also retained the location of the washrooms but replanned them to increase provision and accessibility – no small task because of the need to avoid the new cubicle layout clashing with elements such as windows, door apertures and risers.
‘The most tricky bit was working with existing windows to get the best out of the space,’ says WilkinsonEyre associate Geoff Turner.
The new washrooms were designed to complement both the palette of the original building, which included stone floor, dado, and sapele hardwood architrave, and the detailing of new interventions.
In this way, says Turner, they are contemporary in design and materials but sympathetic and respectful of the original.
The non-slip ceramic floor is a similar beige colour to the original. Door and architrave joinery is European softwood but stained to emulate the hardwood original. White Corian vanity units combine with white sanitaryware by Armitage Shanks, while Decra cubicles have a more contemporary expression with deep maroon doors to contrast with the beige tiles.
At the south west entrance are separate male, female and unisex washrooms plus a changing room for cyclists. In the more constrained north east corner, male and female toilets are on alternate levels and accessible washrooms on all. Two unisex washrooms serve the new extension at the top. As well as improved provision for readers and the public, staff facilities have been overhauled to double female provision and introduce staff shower and change facilities. Total provision throughout the library increased from 30 to 55.
Newport Street Gallery, Vauxhall, London
Caruso St John Architects
Robust, metal-walled washrooms were incorporated into Caruso St John’s design of Newport Street Gallery, the private gallery opened by artist Damien Hirst in Vauxhall, London.
The gallery is a conversion of three grade II listed, former industrial buildings. These are bookended by two new buildings to extend the terrace, leading to the need for washrooms at both ends of the row. A bank of seven public washrooms was installed at the main entrance of the new Building No 1 with four more arranged over two floors of the extension at the other end of the terrace, Building No 9. This and the basement hold extra staff facilities.
The main washrooms are unisex for greater efficiency of space and also to reduce waiting times, but have the flexibility to be split into men’s and women’s washrooms if desired in the future. These include one accessible and one ambulant WC. All have full height floor-to-ceiling walls. Caruso St John reviewed the materials, design details and sequencing for the washrooms after building large scale mock-ups during the design and construction process.
‘Our approach, as for the gallery itself, was to make the washrooms as neutral and calm as possible,’ says project architect Paul Maich.
‘The walls are painted steel so they are more robust and feel like an assembly; the walls and doors to the WCs are all painted steel. It was important that fittings (taps/soap dispensers/ door handles) didn’t have escutcheons or visible fixings.’
The colour scheme is white and grey. Washrooms have the same white walls and floor finish as the gallery spaces. Flooring is an in-situ concrete topping slab, power floated with a dry shake, then ground, acid-etched and sealed. Sanitaryware is also white, with Vitra supplying the basin and pan. Bespoke lighting, consistent with that elsewhere in the gallery, penetrates the wall above the mirror.
Trafalgar Place, Elephant and Castle, London
Future flexibility and ease of maintenance were key priorities in the design of washrooms at Trafalgar Place, a development of two brick-faced, cross-laminated timber apartment buildings on the former Heygate Estate at Elephant and Castle.
Commissioned by Lend Lease, dRMM’s design provides 235 homes across three tenures: private sale, affordable intermediate and affordable rent. For programme risk reasons, the client opted for traditionally built bathrooms rather than prefabricated pods. The interior scheme was developed with Woods Bagot to make bathrooms that feel crafted while setting a neutral backdrop for contemporary living.
Washrooms were designed with flexibility in mind, with 10% of units wheelchair accessible either now or able to be so in the future. Many of the washrooms can accommodate other changing requirements. In a typical three bedroom town house, for example, a Lifetime Homes standard washroom at entry level contains a toilet and basin and is generous enough in size to be converted into a wet room with provision for the addition of a shower if desired.
The next level of the house incorporates a family bathroom with a linear arrangement of toilet, basin and bath/shower along one wall. The master bedroom has an ensuite accessed via a sliding door integrated in the wardrobe.
‘There’s a bit of a blurring of boundaries between the two spaces, which was part of the design concept, to differentiate the master suite from the other bedrooms,’ says dRMM associate Steven Wallis.
Specification was very similar between the units for sale and intermediate ownership. A more robust spec was used for the socially rented provision, which was nevertheless matched wherever possible with the same product ranges to maintain quality throughout the whole development. Ideal Standard sanitaryware and accessories, for example, were used throughout.
Open market and affordable intermediate tenure purchasers were offered a choice of either a warm or cool colour scheme with different splashback materials and floor tile colours that are cross-referenced across the apartment interior. For these tenures, fittings include a reconstituted stone, off-white worktop from DuPont’s Zodiaq range, and Johnson Tiles’ Prismatics tiles used in stretcher bond.
As well as the bathroom aesthetic, access to the ‘guts’ of the building was also a priority to simplify maintenance, with access panels unobtrusively incorporated into the bath panels plus removable plasterboard wall panels and the inclusion of removable cupboard backs where necessary.
‘The developer was very keen for concealed fittings such as valves and drainplates to be easily accessible,’ says Wallis. ‘It required a lot of consideration.'
Riverside Campus, City of Glasgow College
Michael Laird Architects & Reiach and Hall Architects
This new campus encompasses teaching and residential towers on a key site by a major crossing of the River Clyde. The two types of buildings demonstrate very different approaches to the planning and construction of the washrooms.
Flexibility was a priority for the overall design of the teaching tower to ‘future-proof’ it against changes in teaching requirements. Although most of the nautical and engineering students who study at the campus are men, it is hoped to attract more women in time. It was therefore decided that rather than provide separate washroom facilities with a ratio that might need to be changed over time, it was more efficient to make all washrooms unisex, with integral sinks in each cubicle. As there are no separate staff washrooms, the unisex cubicles are used by staff and students alike.
‘There won’t be a need to change the provision in the future – it’s a question of future-proofing the building,’ says associate director Adam Frickleton of Michael Laird Architects, adding that the washrooms’ position alongside the central cores also creates more flexibility for the planning of each floor.
Washrooms needed to be highly durable and to follow an overall aesthetic for raw and robust materials that could be easily changed and renewed over time. The architect specified plasterboard walls, solid core timber doors, suspended metal ceiling and ceramic floor tiling. Ideal Standard sanitaryware is hung off a high-pressure laminate IPS pre-plumbed panel system.
In the 10 storey residential tower to the west of the site, the priorities were speed of installation and quality control. Here, the washrooms were prefabricated by Offsite Solutions, which built each pod in a factory with fully- finished shower, toilet and sink. These were installed by contractor Sir Robert McAlpine before construction of the external envelope. Each pod was raised using a goods lift and then slid across to be plugged into the services when in situ. In total, the accommodation tower has prefabricated pods for 200 twin and single rooms. Disabled loos were installed traditionally.