Toilets that become opaque at the push of a button

Public toilets have an image of being filthy, smelly and somehow a little scary. The Japanese star architect Shigeru Ban, who also designed the Japanese pavilion at the Expo 2000 in Hanover, wants to change that in a revolutionary way: with transparent toilets. These can now be admired in a park in Tokyo’s famous trendy Shibuya district.

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If the toilets are unlocked, their pastel-colored glass walls become transparent. Everyone can then look in from the outside and see the white, clean toilets and sinks. As soon as the doors are closed, a special film switches the walls to opaque.

In the evening, the internally illuminated outhouses in Yoyogi Fukamachi Park in Tokyo advertise their clean interiors.

(Image: Shigeru Ban Architects)

The film worked into the glass walls turns the walls into one-pixel displays that change their state as soon as they are supplied with energy. In order to guarantee that people are not exposed to the public when using the toilets, even in the event of a power failure, the film is opaque when the power is off and only turns transparent at the push of a button. In order to keep the energy balance within reasonable limits, it will be a bistable material that will maintain its transparent state for a long time until the next energy pulse.

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Switchable glass walls from Merck at DisplayWeek 2019

Display specialist Merck showed something similar at Display Wekk 2019, there in the form of a meeting room. The project managers from The Tokyo Toilets assure that if the power fails, the glass walls become opaque. Whatever happens, nobody can look inside.

The ultra-modern toilets with their electricity-powered transforming walls are part of the Nippon Foundation’s The Tokyo Toilet project. Its goal is a rebirth of public toilets as quiet places where you feel comfortable and safe. “There are two things we are concerned about when entering a public toilet, especially if it is in a park. The first is cleanliness and the second is whether someone is inside,” writes architect Ban on the Project website.

Ban is one of 16 artists, including his two well-known architect colleagues, Tadao Ando and Kengo Kuma, who support the project.


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