A Loo With A View
Judith Davidsen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Sweden has made a serious impact on form and function for as long as any of us can remember. But who would have thought that the country's latest design destination would be a pair of airport bathrooms?
Where most restrooms employ wall upon wall of tile and grout, Arosgruppen Arkitekter's facilities in Terminal 5 at Stockholm-Arlanda Airport boast vast expanses of glass—nearly seamless tempered panels imprinted with flower murals by photographer Peter Ahlén. There's also a great view: Huge windows overlook takeoffs, landings, cargo loading, fueling, and all the other activities of an airport at work.
Urinals in the gents' are backed by a meadow of wildflowers photographed in southern Sweden. On the inner wall, the yellow blossoms reach practically to the ceiling. On the outer wall, the meadow rises just 4 1/2 feet—somewhere between chest and chin, depending on the height of the gentleman in attendance. Above that, there's a window. "We saw an opportunity to have as much daylight as possible," says architect Jörgen Winnberg. "Why not take advantage?"
When the men's room opened, there was quite an international buzz for about 15 minutes, mainly coy commentary on the juxtaposition of rolling meadows and—heh, heh, heh—urinals. But the design has significant pluses. Seamless glass goes a long way toward eliminating the odors that accumulate in grout between tiles around the typical urinal. Time-consuming, basically ineffective scrubbing has been replaced by only slightly more effort than goes into cleaning the mirrors. And the combination of meadow and airport views affirms that, yes, you are indeed in Sweden, where nature and technology are equally revered.
"In a perfect world, we'd use glass on the floor, too," says Arlanda design manager Karin Elfver Renstrom, who suggested the treatment after falling in love with a red glass restroom in a Venetian restaurant. As it is, the gray ceramic floor tiles at the airport are joined by a special grout that's used in hospitals and nursing homes to resist the absorption of urine.
The ladies' room has its own floral motif. It's a red buttercup that—perhaps a bit unfortunate for a space serving weary women travelers—is also known as crowfoot. On the verge of full bloom, at roughly 30 times life size, the giant buttercup defines an entire wall in the grooming area, repeating in the mirror over the sinks opposite. The window, located off to the side, begins 2 feet above floor level and continues to the ceiling. But given the slight reflectivity of the glass and the distance to passengers and workers, there's no danger of peeping.
The two facilities serve a terminal that handles at least 4 million passengers a year, yet the art and glass cost only $10,000 more than would have been spent on problematic tile and grout. Expense may be immaterial, however, when you consider that restroom patrons get to enjoy art by a photographer whose latest project stands in the Royal Palace of Stockholm. As Ahlén puts it, "Even restrooms need a soul." Priceless.