Can You Keep a Secret?
The port city of Kitakyushu, in southern Japan, is the home of Toto, manufacturer of arguably the most advanced toilets in the world...
Makiko Kitamura -- Interior Design, 10/28/2010 12:12:28 PM
firm: Yakusiji + Associates Co.
site: Kitakyushu, Japan
The port city of Kitakyushu, in southern Japan, is the home of Toto, manufacturer of arguably the most advanced toilets in the world. Western tourists are often bewildered by the remote-controlled cleansing options, heated seats, and lids that open magically, as if in greeting. Now, completely independent of Toto, Kitakyushu has also become the site of a secret test facility for technology that completely automates the temperature control of water from hot springs-versus the manual adjustments that generally occur at thermal spas today. Profits could be considerable, so it was worth it to hire Yakusiji + Associates Co. to design and construct an entire building primarily for the purpose of putting the prototype system through its paces.
Which isn't to imply that money was no object. To rein in costs, Keizo Yakusiji says, "We kept materials to an absolute minimum. Reinforced concrete blocks, for example, could be left exposed on both the interior and the exterior."
The 3,500-square-foot building is essentially a square split into two halves, and each is virtually a mirror image of the other aside from the different bathing options featured there. While the design does not evoke a traditional Japanese hot-springs spa overall, Yakusiji acknowledges, "I'd say how we bring in the light is Japanese."
Skylights and full-height windows make maximum use of sunshine. For a bath enclosure without windows, Yakusiji relied on solar technology: Housed in a glass sphere on the roof, special lenses collect the sun's rays, which a fiber-optic cable then delivers in the form of a beam that creates circles of light on the water. The effect is almost religious. Meanwhile, in just a few areas, halogen and fluorescent fixtures bounce light softly off the ceiling.
Depending on how light hits the walls, a visitor may or may not notice distinct images emerging from the subtle wash of white on the gray concrete blocks. Yakusiji brought in an artist known for his live painting "performances" to add spare illustrations of birds on the ceiling and foliage on the wall.
Amid this minimalism, his one splurge was the flooring. When you emerge from the changing room into one of the bathing chambers, tiles of warm, tactile cork greet your feet. In the opposite chamber, Yakusiji laid pale and dark gray granite pavers with tumbled edges. In the shower stalls on both sides, drain boards are teak.
White and chocolate-brown outdoor furniture echoes the color contrast between the tubs on each side-either white resin for whirlpool baths or cast iron for the traditional Japanese cauldron-shape bath. The latter is called goemon buro, a reference to the Robin Hood of Japanese legend, said to have been boiled alive. Original versions of these tubs were heated by wood-burning fires; the mechanism for this one is top-secret.
In the location occupied by a rain shower on one side, an identical enclosure on the other side is what Yakusiji calls the "shower lab," with four hand showers lining a wall. Each fitting offers several settings, such as the energizing Champagne spray. There's also a dense Pure stream that produces a melting sensation.
Among the hand showers is one made by Toto. And the toilets? Toto's state-of-the-art Neorest system is featured on one side. On the other sits rival Inax's black Regio. It performs not only flushing functions, of course, but also Frédéric Chopin piano études and a jazzy version of "Danny Boy."
TOA-CORK CO.: FLOOR TILE.
DEDON: SEATING (CHAMBER), FURNITURE (LOUNGE).
SANGETSU CO.: CURTAIN FABRIC (CHAMBER, LOUNGE).
LA FORET ENGINEERING CO.: CEILING FIXTURE (CHAMBER).
TAIYO CEMENT INDUSTRIAL: BLOCKS.
NIPPON PAINT CO.: PAINT.
AKENO CORPORATION: LIGHTING CONSULTANT, MEP.
BIN FIRST CLASS LICENCED ARCHITECT OFFICE: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER.
SHIMIZU CORPORATION: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.