You’ll want to spend hours in this beautifully designed public toilet
If there was one common woe that all Indians would agree on then intolerable public toilets in the country would probably be among the top five. The state of these poorly maintained squatty potty units are so dismal that our Prime Minister Narendra Modi actually decided to include this in his to-do list of issues to resolve.
Meanwhile, in the middle of all these initiatives, a gleaming new structure made of perforated steel came up at the Thane's Marathon Chowk highway, envisioned by Sahej Mantri, Founder of Agasti, a sustainable toilet project and planned by Principal Architect Rohan Chavan. This smart, clean and eye-catching restroom for women stands as an exemplary model in a sea of unhygienic public toilets in India.
The design of the place was inspired by a tree, firstly to express the idea of integrating nature and context in the built form, and secondly, to use the characteristics of a tree to protect the place from the climate. Just the way the shade of a tree protects a garden from the scorching heat while allowing filtered light to seep through, the perforated stainless steel body of the outlet benefits the same way.
The structure has four blocks at two ends – one houses two toilets with a common washbasin and at the other, a nursing room and a toilet for handicapped and senior citizens. At the centre there is a garden that is used for various activities like a place to rest, a free gallery to display art by amateur artists, an area for lectures, awareness campaigns and to celebrate festivals and events. It is in fact a metaphor for relaxing under a tree and socialising. “Most of India’s public furniture like benches, reading stalls, bus stops, tea stalls are occupied by men and rarely do women feel comfortable there. We tried to bridge this gap and have observed many women, some even in groups, use the space on a daily basis,” avers Sahej.
The restroom is fitted with bio digesters to reduce water usage and improve waste management. Facilities like a sanitary pads vending machine and incinerators, CCTV cameras, mobile charging points and a panic alarm system are in place too. “As architects and planners we look at cities as buildings and streets, but cities are about people and events. The history of a city is not the way it looks but what happens there. That is why public spaces are important where people meet and interact. It is a place where new ideas are born," says Rohan Chavan.