‘The Throne’ 3D printed toilets tackle health crisis


Portable toilets are unglamorous things. Often made from polyurethane, which is lightweight, easy to mold but notoriously difficult to recycle, they are designed for function rather than form, and we prefer to spend as little time on them as possible. In all places that need them – festivals, campsites and construction sites, for example – they should ideally be concealed, lest they interfere with work or pleasure.

The Throne: reinventing portable toilets

A new portable toilet, installed in the middle of the picturesque landscape of Gstaad in August 2021, aims to challenge this paradigm. Tagged ‘The Throne’, it was commissioned by To.org – a foundation that creates, finances and pollinates initiatives that address the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges – and produced by Nagami, a Spanish design studio. computer science. . Its streamlined shape vaguely resembles a rocket (tapered at the top and bottom, bulging at the heart and with a slightly truncated base), and most importantly, most of the design was 3D printed from single-use plastics put in the scrap medical facilities, bought by a Dutch company called Reflow.

The Throne has an organic shape, made possible by additive manufacturing, and an almond-shaped sliding door that helps minimize its footprint. Courtesy of To.org

“It was last October when we kicked off a new project here,” said To.org co-founder and CEO Nachson Mimran of The Throne’s Genesis. “When I got to the job site I needed the toilet and walked into one of the portable toilets that we are used to seeing in these type of places. I didn’t enjoy my few minutes in this cabin and walked out wondering if we could do something different.

To.org: from bottle bricks to 3D printing

To.org has done a lot of work on the African continent, especially in the poor neighborhood of Kyebando in Kampala, Uganda. Through his Shadowman Van project, inspired by a work of art by Richard Hambleton that Mimran had acquired at an Amfar auction (a 1977 Chevrolet ice cream truck, repainted by the artist and transformed since in the space of creative conversations), he installed a replica, static ice cream vans with video conferencing equipment at these locations. The vans are connected to each other and to the original, which is at The Alpina Gstaad, the hotel where Mimran is President and Creative Director (the Alpina won a Wallpaper * Design Award in 2013 for ‘Best Retreat winter ”).

A Shadowman Van, installed by To.org in the Kyebando neighborhood in Kampala, Uganda, enables dialogues between To.org’s creative activists in Uganda and the rest of the world

“It was a way to have a remote dialogue with our friends, using the vans as a hub to come up with ideas and discuss the challenges they face,” says Mimran. One of the achievements was that there really was no sanitation in Kyebando; Thus, in 2018, To.org orchestrated the creation of a sanitary building made from plastic bottles filled with discarded polyethylene bags. The bottle-brick toilet, as it was called, ended up comprising 13,356 bottles and over a million bags, employing over 400 people during its construction and providing a safe and private place for locals to relieve themselves and look after their menstrual needs.

“By doing something in a more creative and obviously recycled way, we could enter popular culture both local and international, and spark a wave of inspiration and imitation.”

The hype surrounding the Bottle Brick Toilet enabled To.org to partner with a nonprofit called GiveLove, to build other sustainable and hygienic public toilets in Kyebando that could simultaneously address the challenges of human waste. and plastics.

Completed in 2018, To.org’s Bottle Brick Toilet in Kyebando comprises 13,356 bottles and over one million bags, and employed more than 400 people during its construction.

The Throne shares the same philosophy as these previous toilets, although its sleek, futuristic design places it at the opposite end of the visual spectrum. One of the main goals of the new project was to explore additive manufacturing, which has the potential to revolutionize construction, especially in developing countries. Mimran and Nagami CEO Manuel Jimenez García bonded over their shared interest in the technology at an event in London in 2019 and have since bounced around ideas, including for a 3D printed pavilion, inspired by igloos. , which could perform a function similar to Shadowman’s vans. At the same time, it made sense to work on portable toilets so that the pavilion could be placed in remote places without sanitation facilities.

Design the throne

The shape of The Throne nods to the equally organic shape of the shell-shaped pavilion, currently in the works. The choice of color, a glossy white, serves to align their aesthetic, The Throne’s enlarged core gives the user more room to move around, while an almond-shaped sliding door helps to minimize sound. physical imprint and adds a sense of entry and exit ceremony. A skylight provides natural lighting and, in good weather, offers a vertical view to brighten up the day. Inside, a built-in shelf provides storage for toilet paper and a place for the user to put their phone, while separate containers for solid and liquid waste facilitate eventual composting. An additional container accommodates wood chips to eliminate unwanted odors.

Top: A 3D printed throne detail, which is crafted in glossy white, to match the igloo-inspired 3D printed pavilion it will eventually accompany. Above: The throne features a skylight for natural lighting and vertical viewing. Courtesy of To.org

Using a seven-axis robotic 3D printer produced 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 smaller accessories. were either injection molded or ordered). A quick turnaround for sure, although Mimran admits there is a way to go before a similar throne can be produced in Uganda. While To.org, alongside the local NGO You & I Foundation, runs a fab lab in Kyebando equipped with an advanced 3D printer, the Nagami printer has higher energy and maintenance needs and requires a more training for a larger team. There are other design challenges – unlike traditional portable toilets, The Throne is not stackable, making it more difficult to scale.

The Throne currently exists as a one-off edition, but rather than treating it as an exhibition piece, Mimran implemented it on the same construction site where he had the idea of ​​its creation, and returned it accessible to everyone. “A public toilet is a public toilet. If our team on the job site enjoys this moment, as much as I enjoyed testing it, they would probably be in a better mood to do the job they are doing. ‘ He is delighted with the response so far, both from the leading architects and designers he recently welcomed to Gstaad for a creative workshop, and the local children he has seen ‘going up and down the hill to pay homage. to this foreign-looking object at the top ‘.

Above: a detail of the toilet, which includes separate containers for solid and liquid human waste to facilitate eventual composition. Above: Nachson Mimran, co-founder and CEO of To.org in The Throne. Courtesy of To.org

Creative activism and the future of manufacturing

Mimran would like The Throne to serve as a provocation: it brings to the fore an ‘unsexy conversation’ about sanitation and also encourages mass additive manufacturing vendors to accelerate The Throne’s path to existence in more remote places. . He adds: “We believe that this technology must go through the same type of process as photovoltaics. It used to be a luxury to harness the sun for its energy, and now it’s probably one of the cheapest sources.

“I hope we can bring together a coalition to reduce the costs of distributed digital manufacturing, so it’s not only in the hands of privileged creators and designers, but also with those who design things that are essential and vital to their lives. survival. ‘

Jímenez Garcia of Nagami agrees: “We hope that this exercise of rethinking an incredibly mundane object such as a portable toilet will inspire a new generation of designers and manufacturers to really erase all preconceptions about what an object should. to be. §

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