Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Budi Pradono: Toilet Tales: Bathrooms then and now

Budi Pradono: Toilet Tales: 
Bathrooms then and now 

published in Jakarta Post, 27 08 2015

A new exhibition compares bathrooms around the world, including in Indonesia, and illustrates the social, economic and political developments that have influenced and affected bathroom design.
All of us use the bathroom several times a day, yet we rarely discuss this most private of spaces. Renowned architect Budi Pradono, however, is not shy to talk about the issue; indeed, he is willing to dig into the details.

According to Budi, in Indonesia, the period that transformed the way people use their bathrooms came during president Soeharto’s New Order era.

The 1970s were the dawn of modernity for Indonesia, which had just been through a rough power transition from founding father Sukarno to Soeharto, the military general who ruled Indonesia for over three decades.

“Soeharto wanted to portray Indonesia as an advanced nation. At that time, the banks of the Ciliwung River [which flows through West Java and Jakarta] were filled with people who defecated into the water,” Budi said in a recent interview at his studio in Bintaro on the outskirts of Jakarta.

“He didn’t want that. He wanted us to use seat toilets, just like Westerners.”

He presents his findings on how Soeharto transformed Indonesians’ approach to bathroom usage at The Bathroom of the Seventies in Europe, Asia and South America exhibition at the Hansgrohe Aquademie in Germany. It runs until April 3 next year.

Soeharto’s vision found concrete form in the national building code issued by state-owned developer Perumnas in 1978. The guideline states that an ideal bathroom consists of a seat toilet or squat toilet, a water bucket and a scoop.

The wet bathroom style, Budi notes, is the marriage of modernity and the Indonesian culture of using water abundantly in daily life.

“Indonesia is an archipelago and 70 percent of its territory is water. We have a monsoon season half the year. This shapes our view that water equals cleanliness. If we see something dirty, we splash it with water. This may not make sense to Westerners.”

Indonesia shares this view with its neighbor, Malaysia, but not with Singapore, where limited water resource led then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew to usher in a transformation to dry toilets.   
Perceived as modern and aspirational, many Indonesians began to consider seat toilets a symbol of prestige and they soon became ubiquitous in the homes of the affluent.

“Squat toilets are installed in the bathroom intended for use by domestic helpers and the seat toilet is for the master bathroom. Housing developers still use this system because it is still popular.”

Budi presents his research at the exhibition developed by Roman Passarge, head of the Hansgrohe Aquademie, in collaboration with Budi and fellow architects Mathias Klotz and Eduardo Ruiz-Risueño from Chile and Jörn Frenzel from Germany. Arkas Förstner of föndesign was responsible for the exhibition’s design.

The exhibition displays a typical 1970s Indonesian bathroom as conceived by Budi. Lined with cloudy blue tiles, the bathroom is furnished with a washbasin with a simple mirror hanging above it. A Japanese Toto seat toilet — an immensely popular brand in Indonesia — sits beside a tall ceramic water storage tub and a plastic scoop.

The research was conducted by Budi and his team at Budi Pradono Architects, a research-based architectural studio founded in 1999.

The shift to seat toilets, which started in the 1970s, has yet to be fully accepted by the public, Budi says.

“It’s common to see toilets in railway stations and malls with seats that have been damaged by people squatting on them.”

Having started with the 1970s, Budi then looked at Indonesia’s bathrooms today. Many urbanites, in his view, treat the bathroom as a space of respite after facing the hustle and bustle of the city.

“Many of my clients ask for larger bathrooms, generally between 12 and 15 square meters compared with the government’s standard of 2 by 1.5 meters,” he says.

“Using the space becomes a sort of therapy. While in the bathroom, people still can read newspapers or use their smartphones.” 

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