Often during festivals, campsites, construction sites or any other situation in which the installation of portable toilets is required, we find ourselves faced with “boxes” in polyurethane (a material that is difficult to recycle) that focus on functionality, completely neglecting aesthetics and comfort. Last August, a new fully 3D printed toilet was installed in Gstaad that aims to revolutionize the concept of the portable bathroom, and the name “The Throne” immediately makes us understand, with a hint of irony, the nature of the initiative. Commissioned by To.org – a foundation that creates, funds and crosses initiatives that address the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges – and built by Nagami, a Spanish studio specializing in computational design, its streamlined shape vaguely resembles a rocket and, most importantly, most of the design was 3D printed from disposable plastic discarded by medical facilities, provided by Reflow, a Dutch company.
To.org co-founder and CEO Nachson Mimran regarding the birth of The Throne project said: “We started last October when I arrived at the construction site, I needed the bathroom and I went into one of the mobile toilets that we usually see in this kind of places. I didn’t enjoy my few minutes in this cubicle and I went out wondering if we could do something different ”.
To.org has previously worked on the African continent, particularly in Uganda, in the poor neighborhood of Kyebando in Kampala. Through his Shadowman Van project, inspired by a Richard Hambleton artwork that Mimran bought at an Amfar auction (a 1977 Chevrolet ice cream truck, painted by the artist and since then transformed into a space for creative conversation), has installed replica and vans with video conferencing equipment. The vans are connected to each other and to the original, which is located at the Alpina Gstaad, the hotel where Mimran is president and creative director (the Alpina won a Wallpaper Design Award in 2013 as “Best winter refuge”).
“It was a way to have a long-distance dialogue with our friends, using the vans as a hub to bring forward ideas and discuss the challenges they are facing”, explains Mimran. Among the most obvious issues there was the absence of a sanitation service in Kyebando; so in 2018, To.org organized the creation of a toilet building made from plastic bottles filled with discarded polyethylene bags. The Bottle Brick Toilet, as it was called, ended up including 13,356 bottles and over a million bags, employing more than 400 people during its construction and providing a safe and private place for locals to break free and meet their needs. “By doing something in a more creative and obviously recycled way, we could enter popular culture both locally and internationally and spark a wave of inspiration and imitation,” added Mimran.
The hype that sparked the Bottle Brick Toilet has allowed To.org to partner with a non-profit organization called GiveLove to build more sustainable and hygienic public toilets in Kyebando. “The Throne” shares the same spirit as these early toilets, although its sleek and futuristic design places it at the opposite end. One of the main targets of the new project is undoubtedly to explore additive manufacturing, which has the potential to revolutionize construction, especially in developing countries.
Mimran and Nagami CEO, Manuel Jimenez García, joined their mutual interest in this technology at a London event in 2019 and since then they have brought their ideas to life, including an igloo-inspired 3D printed pavilion that could play a function similar to the Shadowman vans. Also, another reason for working on a portable toilet was to allow the pavilion to be placed in remote locations with no toilet facilities.
The shape of the “Throne” winks at the shell-like shape of the pavilion, which is currently a work in progress. The choice of color, a bright white, serves to align their aesthetics; the enlarged shape instead offers the user more space to move, while an almond-shaped sliding door helps to minimize physical clutter and add a sense of ceremony and elegance when entering and leaving this futuristic bathroom. A skylight allows natural lighting and, in good weather, also offers a vertical view. Inside, an integrated shelf allows you to store toilet paper and there is a space for the user to place the phone. Separate containers for solid and liquid waste facilitate any composting while an additional container accommodates the wood shavings to eliminate the unwanted odors.
Using a seven-axis robotic 3D printer manufactured by ABB, Nagami was able to print the main components of “The Throne” in three days (the body, the door and a bucket for solid waste; the base and some small accessories were injection molded or ordered from third parties). Definitely, a quick turnaround, although Mimran is aware that there is still a long way to go before a similar structure can be produced in Uganda. While To.org, together with the local NGO You & I Foundation, runs a fab lab in Kyebando that features an advanced 3D printer, Nagami’s printer has higher energy and maintenance requirements and requires more training for a larger team. There are other design challenges as well: unlike traditional portable toilets, “The Throne” is not stackable, which makes scaling more difficult.
“The Throne” currently exists as a single edition, but instead of treating it as a showpiece, Mimran put it into service on the same site where he had the idea for its creation and made it accessible to all. ‘A public toilet is a public toilet. If our team on the construction site enjoyed this moment, as much as I enjoyed testing it, they would probably be in a better mood to do the job they do”.
Mimran’s intention is for “The Throne” to act as a provocation: it brings up an “unsexy discussion” about sanitation and also encourages mass additive manufacturing suppliers to accelerate the path of the existence of the “Throne” in the most remote places. He further added: “We believe this technology must go through the same kind of processes that photovoltaics went through: it used to be a luxury to harness the sun for its energy, and now it is probably one of the cheapest sources. We hope to be able to put together a coalition to reduce the costs of distributed digital production, therefore not only in the hands of privileged creatives and designers but also of those who design essential and vital objects for their survival ”.