Undergraduate Residential Environments and Design major Alexandria Hubbard recently returned from studying abroad in Turkey, Morocco, and Sri Lanka through the 21st Century Studies Nomadic Program. While exploring new cultures, Alexandria spent time observing and learning about the beautiful structures of mosques, kitchens, and, most importantly, bathrooms. In Morocco, she and her peers realized the bathrooms were not only visually unfamiliar, but also functionally different from those in the United States. Instead of wallpaper, bathrooms were lined completely by tile, showers contained larger heads and were exposed, toilets were often just a hole in the floor and required one to squat, and there was lower water pressure than here in the U.S. Eventually, the group learned that these differences actually had notable health and environmental benefits lacking in the standard American restroom.

At the time, Alexandria was assigned to pursue a research project inspired by her study aboard experience. Fascinated by the benefits of these foreign bathrooms, she decided to “design a bathroom that encompassed all of the efficiency I saw when I was abroad, but still keeping the style and comfort of an American bathroom.” Using the interior design software 2020, Alexandria created a floor plan for the following hybrid: Moroccan fundamentals such as tile, squat toilet, and efficient water conserving fixtures (toilet, shower, and faucet), joined together with American design.

Her research started with the adaptation of water conservation through low-flow fixtures. In Morocco, “water is recycled through the bathroom from one fixture to another. The water comes out of the faucet, and after going down the drain gets recycled through a pipe in the wall to the toilet.” To promote water conservation in her own design, she chose fixtures by WaterSense, a partner with the U.S Environmental Protection Agency providing “consumers with easy ways to save water […] without compromising performance.”1 This program aims to protect the future of our world’s water supply, and by providing the options of using more or less water per flush, water can be saved.

For Alexandria, the squat toilet was the most memorable component of the Moroccan bathroom. “My first time using the squat toilet was actually during a group outing in a mosque. It was so embarrassing. But after the initial experience I got extremely comfortable using this type of toilet and even noticed the health benefits.” After research, she found that “the physical position of squatting while using the bathroom is much more natural, and relieves the user much more thoroughly than a sitting toilet. While sitting is more comfortable, the modern toilet has also brought about more straining causing hemorrhoids, colon disease, pelvic floor issues, and constipation.” However, keeping her own initially uncomfortable experience in mind, and with an understanding of most Americans’ unfamiliarity with this sort of design, Alexandria created a toilet seat that would encourage Americans to practice this healthy habit but with options to squat or sit.

Another important component was tile. Usually used in American restrooms for aesthetic purposes, tiles actually serve as a better alternative to basic wallpaper. “Mold is a common fungus found in damp locations, and after one too many hot showers can become a problem. Minerals, fungi, and other common health assailants can be held at bay, keeping the air quality and overall health and wellbeing of the environment, home, and household within in safety.” Several samples and options of tiles were introduced in her design to make the restroom healthier.

Other important factors include ADA compliancy and options to accommodate different budgets. “Aging in place and independent living has always been a priority of mine as a designer. Making a design universal and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act allows the user to age in their home gracefully and independently without the fear of safety hazards and accessibility barriers that they at one point did not experience.” Her design includes 3 sets of fixtures “based on collection, style, and budget.” Alexandria collected sample tiles from Dehart Tile Company in Christiansburg that matched the tiles in her design. She proves that her layout is actually accessible in the real world. “People think it’s a lot harder or more expensive to make these changes. But I’m giving options that prove otherwise.”

Her final product was a beautiful, 3-D perspective, including floor plans, pictures, and detailed descriptions of all fixtures and tiles, and prices. Alexandria expresses her understanding that people may be hesitant to change, but believes that after the right accommodations and time, people will adapt. It is amazing to see that other cultures have mastered such an efficient and aesthetically pleasing toilet system. While cultural preferences have kept us from change, Alexandria’s optimism and the remarkable adaptions of the Moroccan restroom suggest the possibility in the near future.

NOTES

1 http://www.epa.gov/watersense/about_us/what_is_ws.html