We don’t like to talk about it in polite company but using the restroom is one of our most basic needs. Organisms, regardless of their complexity, need a way to get rid of biological waste and humans are no different. Luckily, society has come a long way from our ancestral state, and technology has changed our relationship with this, the most private of daily activities.
The development and expansion of indoor plumbing has drastically improved the process, not to mention separating people from a considerable source of disease transmission. Still, most of us are utilizing toilets that aren’t very far removed from what was available in the late 16th century (via History).
Modern toilets are good. They do the job they were designed to do, and they do it moderately well, but bathrooms have remained largely the same for centuries even as society has proceeded into the future. Four hundred years feels like plenty of time for inventors and engineers to come up with something better and finally give our bathrooms the futuristic treatment they deserve. While most of us will likely continue to take care of our business as our parents and grandparents did, there are some impressively high-tech bathrooms out there — if you know where to look.
Vertebrae vertical bathroom
The Vertebrae vertical bathroom is the perfect solution for when you have more money than space. In exchange for $20,000, you’ll get an all-in-one bathroom solution with everything you need from the toilet to place to wash up.
When condensed, this vertical bathroom system resembles something akin to a floor-to-ceiling silver spine. Hence the name. The height is adjustable so you can fit it to suit the dimensions of its intended room. The system is comprised of seven modular components, each of which addresses a particular restroom use case (via TrendHunter).
At the top are two shower modules. The intention is for the top one to be used by adults and the lower one to be used by children, but it’s really a matter of preference and individual height. Controls for the shower are located lower down the spine. Sliding out additional modules will reveal storage units, a sink basin with a built-in soap dispenser, and finally, a toilet at the bottom with a toilet roll holder and toilet brush hidden away inside.
It’s unclear why you might need to intermittently save space in your bathroom, but with the Vertebrae vertical bathroom you’ll have the option to clear floor space the next time you need to… um, stretch out on your bathroom floor or something.
Even in the comfort of your own home, using the restroom is a vulnerable activity. But when you move that same activity to a public toilet all bets are off. You’re exposed, you’re maybe a little bit embarrassed, and your pants are around your ankles. It’s hard to imagine a worse possible time for something to go wrong. It would certainly be the worst possible time for bullets to start flying. Although, there’s probably never a good time for that.
Luckily, most of us don’t encounter those sorts of threats in our daily lives, let alone while we’re on the toilet. However, if you’re the kind of person who attracts bad luck, or you’re secretly a government spy on the run from your arch nemesis, you might want to take your bathroom activities to Beijing’s Zhongguan Village.
According to Luxury Launches, they have released a series of bulletproof public toilets in the village square capable of protecting you from all manner of threats while you handle your business. As explained by Weird Asia News, it might even be capable of holding up against some explosives. Any biological explosions created by you on in the inside, however, are your responsibility to deal with.
You’re out on the lake, enjoying a day on the water, and maybe you’ve had a little too many of your preferred canned beverages. Getting back to shore is a hassle and besides, you don’t want to interrupt the fun just to answer the call of nature. Suddenly, you’re looking at the lake like it’s one big toilet just waiting to solve your problem. We’ve all been there. We get it. But peeing, or worse, in a publicly shared body of water is uncool. Luckily, many national parks have considered this problem and solved it on your behalf with floating platform toilets.
These are commonly seen on public lakes and are intended to give you a place to go when you’re out on the water. They’re essentially a couple of sturdy porta potties on a deck, anchored to the bottom of the lake (via Oregon.gov).
They empty into a central holding tank capable of holding up to 1,000 gallons of sewage. When they’re full, they get towed to shore where they are emptied out by a commercial sewage handling company, before heading back out to open water. Using one of these toilets is the perfect and most literal way to sit on a toilet that makes you feel like you’re gently drifting on a calm current, because you will be.
At first glance, transparent public bathrooms seem like a wholly terrible idea. These facilities, which are part of the Tokyo Toilet Project, are equipped with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and colorful lighting which beckon the beacons of Gondor. Anyone walking by can see inside and that’s exactly the idea.
The restrooms’ designers intended to address the problems experienced by individuals utilizing public toilets: the question of cleanliness and whether or not they are occupied (via NPR). By making the walls transparent, passersby can see the state of each stall from the outside. They can then make an informed decision about whether or not a stall is free and whether they’re willing to use it without ever having to open the door.
The good news is they don’t remain transparent once they’re in use. Once you step inside and lock the door, the walls transform from see-through to a sort of muddied semitransparent. It’s enough to shield your private time from the prying eyes of other park-goers while still making it clear the stall is occupied.
What’s more, should you choose to use one of these facilities, you’re likely to have a pretty nice time. According to NPR, toilet design is being advised by TOTO, a company well-known for high-tech toilets, complete with heated seats, bidets, and more.
Finding an available public restroom when you’re out and about can be a challenge in the best of times, but that’s especially true at night when all of the local businesses have closed down. If you’re out with friends, enjoying a late night when you experience a sudden restroom emergency, you might be in trouble. When all else fails, you’re going to do what you have to do. Consequently, cities spend tens of thousands of dollars a year, or more, dealing with the problem of public urination (via Hawaii News Now).
Urilift seeks to solve that problem by providing pop-up toilets which sink into the ground during the day and rise above the surface at night. They offer a few different models, some of which include three recessed urinals around a central column and others that are individual enclosed stalls. Each toilet uses a hydraulic lift to raise and lower itself from its subterranean housing.
What’s more, the roofs are designed to mirror the design of the sidewalk so that they practically vanish when recessed into the ground (via Interesting Engineering). If you didn’t know ahead of time, you’d never know they were there until they rose from below street level. That would be quite a site during your walk home after a bender at your local bar, and a welcome one at that.
Anyone with pets (or small children, for that matter) has probably experienced more than their fair share of being watched while in the bathroom. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but it’s not like it’s something we would willingly choose, right?
This unique bathroom in the Hipopo Papa café in Japan puts that notion to the ultimate test by surrounding patrons of one of its restrooms with countless silent spectators. Instead of walls, the bathroom is surrounded by three large floor-to-ceiling aquariums filled with hundreds of fish and one lone turtle, according to Oddity Central. If we’re honest, the turtle makes things a little weird. They’re a little too high on the intelligence spectrum for comfort, but what are you going to do?
Somehow, being surrounded by hundreds of unblinking fishy eyeballs doesn’t seem quite as unsettling as you might expect. In fact, it looks pretty relaxing. You could almost imagine yourself sitting in there longer than necessary just to soak in the ambiance. If you’ve ever wanted to use a powder room that feels like being inside of a Windows 95 screensaver, this is your chance. The restroom is otherwise pretty standard, boasting an ordinary-looking toilet, a small trashcan, and a toilet roll but you’ll feel like Atlantean royalty while you’re sitting on this ceramic throne.
Egg-shaped toilet pods
According to The Nudge, London’s Sketch restaurant, located not far from Piccadilly Circus, is more an immersive art installation than an establishment for eating. Although, you can eat. Immediately upon entering you’re overwhelmed by wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling artworks and lavish décor. There are several rooms to choose from including the Parlour, the Lecture Room & Library, the Gallery, and the Glade, each of which come with its own unique menu and aesthetic.
Not to be outdone by the communal gathering spaces, Sketch’s proprietors put just as much attention into the bathrooms. Should you need to step away from the table to freshen up, you’ll find a restroom filled with individual pods for you to use. Each one looks like a xenomorph egg as imagined by hello kitty.
The pods are modeled after sensory deprivation tanks tipped on their ends. They’re the sort of thing you might grow a clone inside of or use to escape your spaceship moments before it self-destructs. Business Insider explains that once you’re inside, you’re met with weird music, futuristic sounds, and color-changing lighting, all of which complete the sensory experience Sketch is trying to create. Whether or not it helps you to relieve yourself, that’s up to you.
World’s largest public bathroom
It’s often said that bigger is always better, but when it comes to public toilets, we’re not so sure. Visiting China’s “porcelain palace” is one way to find out for certain. Located inside the now defunct Foreigner’s Street tourist area in Chongqing, China, is a sprawling outdoor restroom facility boasting more than a thousand toilets spread over an area of more than 32,000 square feet.
According to NBC News, city officials submitted an application to Guinness World Records in order to officially enshrine the facilities into their world-famous records book, but as of this writing, there hasn’t been a ruling.
This collection of open-air restrooms reportedly includes televisions and speakers pumping out music but not of that is really necessary as the toilets themselves are entertainment enough. There, you won’t find row after row of ordinary stalls or urinals. Instead, the toilets have been artistically designed to serve double duty as works of art, taking the form of various sculptures ranging from animals to people.
Taken on their own, the toilets aren’t very high-tech, but the sheer planning and plumbing required to handle up to a thousand toilets all being used at the same time are staggering. It’s not all smiles at the porcelain palace, however. You’re unlikely to find much privacy there with its short walls and countless attendees, but at least there’s sure to never be a line.
Hands-free public bathroom
The worst thing about using a public bathroom is being in public (or maybe it’s the smell, we’re undecided). The next worst thing is trying not to think about all of the germs which are definitely present from all of the other people, some of whom definitely didn’t wash their hands. Every time you touch a flush handle or turn on the water it can feel like you’re taking your life into your hands.
This public toilet in Tokyo seeks to solve that problem by making the entire process totally hands-free. It sits inside a half dome and is another entry in the Tokyo Toilet Project, the same endeavor which brought us the transparent toilets.
Upon entering, you can greet the toilet with the words “hi, toilet,” and it will respond with a chime (via TimeOut). Honestly, we’re glad it responds to such a generic moniker — if it had a more human name the whole endeavor would feel a little too personal. Once the toilet is listening, you can use a set of available voice commands in either English or Japanese to open or close the door, flush the toilet, and control the bidet. You can even play music in order to help you relax and enjoy your stay, however brief.
ISS orbiting bathroom
Does the International Space Station count as being “in the world?” That’s debatable, but its bathroom facilities are certainly worth a mention. There are certain things we take for granted on Earth that can’t be depended upon in space, even when you’re as close as low Earth orbit. Namely: gravity.
The station has been continuously occupied since November of 2000 (via NASA) and for the first two decades of that time astronauts were working with a less-than-ideal bathroom situation. It had a number of problems including the fact that it was designed with male astronauts in mind and didn’t work incredibly well for people with different anatomy (via the University of Buffalo).
In 2018, NASA invested $23 million in a new toilet known as the Universal Waste Management System, which was finally installed in 2021. When you’re living in microgravity with sensitive equipment and a group of other people, stray excrement is a serious concern and worthy of a relatively large investment.
The new toilet includes vacuum technology which activates when the lid is raised and actively keeps your waste right where you want it, as well as a collection of handholds and footholds so that astronauts can keep themselves firmly seated. As for what’s done with the waste once it’s collected, urine is recycled and purified for reuse as clean water and solid waste is packaged up and shot into Earth’s atmosphere where it burns up (via CNN).