Sustainable bathroom concepts.

A guest article by Thomas Edelmann.

AXOR bathroom discussions at ISH

Use & function of the bathroom in the future.

The AXOR Talk, “Bathroom sharing concepts and universal design: what will bathrooms in shared urban living spaces look like in future?” opened up a creative, political and social discussion. The conversation focused on alternative lifestyles and their structural design, the shared use of bathrooms, and the “demographic alignment” of housing stock.

Taking part in the discussion were architect Bernhard Franken from Frankfurt, Thomas Bade, who runs the Institute for Universal Design in Munich and Stadthagen, and Fabian Kinzler, responsible for Housing & Care at AXOR/hansgrohe, and thus for customers from the housing industry and operators of care facilities.

Professor Franken, an architect from Frankfurt.

Types of community

The debate dealt with the “demographic alignment” of housing and of alternative housing models – such as sharing concepts, where rooms are jointly used. Aside from innovative hotel and office concepts, would this also work in the bathroom?

Architect Franken, whose office specializes “in using space to tell stories”, talked about projects that focus on sharing space. “No bathroom has ever featured up to now,” he said.

A focus on the spatial scenario.

“The future no longer lies in the product, but in the spatial scenario,” asserted Thomas Bade from the Institute for Universal Design. A reluctance to tackle the issue of demographic change has now given way to economic considerations. The challenges lie not in constructing new housing that is wheelchair-accessible where possible, but instead in the existing housing stock. Of this, 2.5 million residential units need to be “demographically aligned”. The housing industry alone estimates around 15,000 euros per residential unit, with the majority of funds earmarked for the bathroom.

Thomas Bade from the Institute for Universal Design.
Fabian Kinzler, team leader in project business.

The right products for different users.

However, for Fabian Kinzler – who has detailed knowledge of this project business as team leader for AXOR/hansgrohe – the spatial scenario that Bade mentioned requires the right products that are appropriate for a wide range of user groups.

Multiple realities

While architect Franken is interested in experiments that overturn the standards – in getting rid of existing housing limitations in order to create more space for shared areas and putting long-term stay, boarding or sharing concepts to the test – Bade and Kinzler discussed the expectations of the housing industry.

Bade anticipates something tantamount to economically driven, forced bathroom sharing, based on the model of bathrooms used in nursing care. Design is essential in order to enable people to remain active in their own homes for as long as possible.

Kinzler stated that there is a “greater focus on standardization than the end user might want” when it comes to current building projects.

Kinzler disagrees when it comes to the expectations for shared bathrooms: Anyone building small student apartments and micro apartments nowadays equips them with compact bathrooms. “Shared bathrooms reduce rentability.” Inpatient care increasingly demands personal bathrooms.

The world’s a hotel?

Franken sees the penchant for standardization as a “reflex of the fearful”. He cites the hybridization of hotel and housing formats. Rather than the standardization of products and spatial requirements, he would like to see flexible processes.

Similar to those in the office sector, where permanent renting of large surface areas is being replaced by new hotel-style concepts. These require more flexible creative solutions, which will in turn transform the housing market. Landlords would have to also become contractors here, continually catering to the modification requests made by the users.

The world’s a hotel? Bade and Kinzler expressed their doubts in terms of the users and housing industry. What is important is to define high standards of furnishing, which can be repeatedly adapted according to changing expectations.