What is driving innovation in bathroom design in residential and commercial developments, and what does the future hold? These questions were addressed by a panel of experts at a round table discussion in London hosted by AT and Geberit

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Round Table Participants

Sally Atkinson
Associate director, MSMR Architects
Kostas Bachas
Associate, ORMS
Lynne Clapham-Carter
Specification manager, Geberit UK
Nick de Klerk
Architect, Aukett Swanke
Jennifer de Vere-Hopkins
Associate director, Jestico & Whiles
Francesca Gernone
Partner, head of interiors, Fletcher Priest
James Halliday
Associate, Squire & Partners
Tina Norden
Director, Conran & Partners
Dexter Moren
Partner and founder of Dexter Moren Architects
Chris Foges
Editor, Architecture Today

Until relatively recently, bathroom design has been largely concerned with issues of hygiene and functionality. Today, many architects and clients view it as an opportunity to express the wider aspirations of building projects through detailing, materiality, ecology and sensory experience. This is particularly true of high-end residential and commercial developments, which tend to focus on design, lifestyle and technology. So what is driving bathroom design in the twenty-first century, and how are architects and manufacturers responding to the demands being placed on these increasingly important spaces?

Jennifer de Vere-Hopkins

Market responses
Jennifer de Vere-Hopkins of Jestico & Whiles started the discussion by suggesting that market forces, driven in part by cultural mores, have a great deal of influence on bathroom design. “Context is central to the design process, particularly with regards to privacy and bathing versus showering”, explained the architect. “Specifiers need to know if they are designing a hotel for Chinese, Middle Eastern and/or European clientele.”

Conran & Partners’ Tina Norden concurred, giving an example of the Japanese custom for showering prior to bathing, so that other family members can use the same bathwater. “It’s important to get your mind around how people use these highly private spaces”, advised the architect. “You can then decide with the client if you are designing for an Asian customer in Europe, or maybe giving that visitor a more European experience. Architects need to be aware of this in order to make conscious decision about what they portray or express in their projects.”

Fletcher Priest’s Francesca Gernone highlighted the demands posed by multi-occupancy developments. “In design terms, non-tenant-specific bathrooms have to be almost ‘vanilla’ in terms of styling, while also catering to a number of specific tastes”, she explained. “The challenge is to come up with something  that is exciting, yet acceptable to everyone.”

Tina Norden

Making space
A key issue identified by Norden is that the space allocated to bathrooms is frequently incommensurate with the aspirations of the client for what they must contain. De Vere-Hopkins observed that this has given rise to greater flexibility and innovation. “There are no longer hard and fast rules when it comes to bathroom design,” she said. “Hotel operators are looking at ways to be more creative, and that’s why we are seeing vanity units that can double as work desks. The emphasis is very much on multi-tasking environments.”

Geberit’s Lynne Clapham-Carter said that sanitaryware design is driven in part by the need to conserve space while maintaining high levels of functionality. “A lot of products could be even slimmer than they already are, but manufacturers have to allow for supporting pipework, which is often located behind and concealed by the fitting. It’s something that we are very conscious of as a manufacturer. We try to build-in multi-functionality, where appropriate, while ensuring good aesthetics and compactness. Geberit’s AquaClean shower toilets are a case in point.”

James Halliday

Creating an experience
The panel agreed that creating a memorable bathroom experience was a now priority for many clients. James Halliday of Squire & Partners evidenced this with the Ministry of Sound’s new co-working office in south London. “We followed the brief by ensuring that the ground-floor restaurant and bar toilets provided the main ‘wow’ factor”, he said. “Since the project completed, this element has attracted the most attention in terms of photos, Instagram coverage and general media interest, which is what the client wanted.”

According to Nick de Klerk of Aukett Swanke, the bathrooms of the practice’s new Four Seasons Hotel at 10 Trinity Square in London are the most Instagrammed areas of the entire scheme. ORMS’ Kostas Bachas made the point that washrooms should be seamlessly integrated with the bar and restaurant experience. “Customers should still feel special even though they have left the dining room”, he explained.

Dexter Moren and Kostas Bachas 

Halliday, Gernone and Dexter Moren of Dexter Moren Architects discussed the trend for extending the bathroom experience to include sensory products, such as mouthwashes, and specially formulated perfumes and hand creams. “Our design for the Ampersand Hotel in London employs unisex toilets in the public areas, with each one characterised by a different theme and corresponding scent”, recounted Moren.

“For Squire & Partners, the bathroom experience is expanding both spatially and experientially”, said Halliday. “To access the toilets at The Ministry you have to first pass through a mirrored vanity space that is equipped with hair dryers, straighteners and other grooming products.”

De Vere-Hopkins made the assertion that natural light is a ‘luxury’ that many bathrooms in commercial and residential developments do not currently possess. De Klerk acknowledged this problem, making reference to a hotel in Singapore that challenges convention by placing the bathrooms against the facade. Glass screens within the spaces channel borrowed natural light to the inward facing bedrooms at the rear.


Geberit Acanto Slim-Rim washbasin, mirror cabinet and furniture

Trends and materiality
Current bathroom trends identified by MSMR Architects’ Sally Atkinson include rain- and walk-in showers, wet rooms, freestanding baths, bidets and shower toilets. “Agents can be instrumental in identifying future trends, as they often have an overview of what is coming to the market and what is going out of fashion”, said Atkinson.

Norden disagreed, “I find agents problematic, because they tend to think about previous sales figures, making their views retrospective.” The architect also made the point that commercial projects typically have predetermined design lives (typically five to seven years for hotel refits), which should be carefully considered in respect of passing trends and fads.

The increasing popularity of unisex toilets or ‘superloos’ engaged all the participants. Moren and Clapham-Carter made the point they positively addressed the current gender debate, eschewing the need for gender-specific signage. A negative impact identified by de Vere-Hopkins is the requirement for more cubicles, which in turn increases the amount of service space needed. The architect went on to suggest that the growing acceptance of unisex toilets, particularly among millennials, could stem from schools where they are often employed to help discourage bullying.

The panel agreed that material preferences for commercial bathrooms are often led by operator concerns over cleaning schedules. “A product that takes an extra minute to clean can have a significant cost implication when it is used in 200 rooms and serviced 365 days a year”, explained de Vere-Hopkins.


Geberit Citterio lay-on washbasins and furniture

Practice makes perfect
The participants all viewed full-size bathroom mock-ups as critically important to the success of larger-scale commercial and residential projects. “They enable specifiers and clients to see if the design looks right, while identifying fundamental mistakes”, explained Moren. Clapham-Carter added, “Geberit is often involved in product changes and specification refinements resulting from mock-up testing. The company provides working bathroom fittings free-of-charge to facilitate the process.”

Lynne Clapham-Carter

Ecology and accessibility
Inevitably, the conversation turned to sustainability and water ecology. According to Norden, luxury resort hotels are leading the way in sustainable bathroom design, with innovations gradually filtering down to lower budget operators. An example given by the architect is the practice of eschewing disposable mini toiletries in favour of larger bottles, which are cleaned and refilled everyday for guests. Moren highlighted the problem of perception, where eco-friendly products, such as button-operated, time-controlled showers continue to have associations with low-end applications.

Clapham-Carter acknowledged the importance of water saving, and how this forms the backbone of Geberit’s product development. On the subject of accessibility, the panel agreed that achieving a non-institutional aesthetic for disabled bathrooms was essential. Norden and de Klerk noted that the task of designing ‘regular’ looking disabled bathrooms is often made easier by private clients – who tend to be less risk averse – and local authorities that are open to new ideas, rather than following a rigid box-ticking approach.

Sally Atkinson

Looking to the future
The discussion concluded with each panelist identifying an area they felt to be of particular relevance to the future of bathroom design. Several, including Atkinson and Bachas, sited the importance of multi-sensory, experiential environments – particularly in the face of ever-smaller living and leisure spaces. For Clapham Carter and de Klerk it is water conservation, waste reduction, and issues of wellbeing that are critical. De Vere-Hopkins suggested that the growing number of Asian travellers could strongly influence the future design of European bathrooms. Meanwhile Moren is envisaging the arrival of 3D-printed bathrooms in the not too distant future.

Visit the Geberit website for more on water conservation, waste reduction, and issues of wellbeing and to download the Science Behind The Sensory Space whitepaper.

The Geberit team can be contacted on 01926 516800 or by email at enquiries@geberit.co.uk

Participants’ Responses