Toilet design for Western and Muslim cultures

A Western style toilet with a shattaf installed.
Western toilet with shattaf

Western toilets are designed for sitting. But this is not the preference for all cultures. Squat toilets are widely used in Asia and are considered better for a healthy bowel system. However, they are not great for Westerners and people with physical disability. Water for cleansing is rarely used in Western countries, but it’s considered more hygienic than paper. So, can universal design solve the differences in toilet design for Western and Muslim cultures? 

Zul Othmann wanted to find a toilet design solution workable for both cultures. The first step was to recruit Muslim families that had adapted their home toilet. Seven families participated as case studies. The experiences ranged from happily using a Western style toilet, to making adaptations to an existing toilet. In some cases both water and paper are used. Some families have adjusted to Western toilets, but visits by family members and friends also need to be considered. 

Design recommendations

The article discusses the family experiences and concludes with some recommendations for designers. Products such as bidets and shattafs are available in Australia, but their installation needs some preparation. 

Toilet converters or squat/step stool for Western sitting toilets need stronger toilet seats for safety. Wall mounted toilets might need additional supports to take the additional weight.

Careful consideration for drainage systems is the main concern. A stand-alone toilet closet in a typical Australian home does not have a floor trap. So finding ways to keep the floor dry when using the shattaf is essential. The paper needs protection from the water if using the toilet in both modes.

Othmann closes the article with comments about vaastu shastra and feng shui. Some designs need to be reversed or mirrored because both teachings originate in the Northern Hemisphere.

The title of the article is, Towards more culturally inclusive domestic toilet facilities in Australia. It provides yet another aspect of inclusion and universal design and the family experiences make interesting reading. Photographs and diagrams highlight key points. 

See also the work of Katherine Webber and her study of toilets around the world. It has more background about the differences in toilet habits.