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.
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.
Toilets and tourism
Toilets are not the same the world over, but they all need to be accessible as Alaa Bashti points out in her conference poster presentation: “Accessible public toilets and restrooms from an Islamic perspective”.
Alaa Bashti poster presentation PDF
From the abstract:
The tourism industry has become the most successful service sector, one of its leading job-creators and foreign exchange-earners. Behind this success lies a fascinating understanding of people needs taking into consideration the variety of people abilities and religions. One such group of people who have special requirements when it comes to using restrooms are Muslims, who make up 1.5 billion, or one quarter, of the world’s population.
In Malaysia and most Islamic countries, it is important to understand the ‘Islamic toilet manner’ as it can have direct implications for the design and planning of toilet facilities as Islam advocates for matters of cleanliness. Among the most crucial problems to be solved is whether one is sure to find a toilet one can comfortably use outside of home.
This paper highlights what might be ideal standards for toilet provision, toilet design according to the Islamic principles and emphasising the importance of public toilets in creating accessible cities for everyone. In designing a public toilet, some elements should be stressed particularly on the understanding of users’ needs.
There is a need for a universal design of a public toilet that is always clean, comfortable and safe as well as relaxing. The Department of Standard Malaysia (SIRIM) has initiated the publication of Malaysian Standards as guidelines for designers; architects, city planners, landscape architects, interior designers, and others who are involved in the construction of the built environment with universal design. Four standards on public toilets are to be developed.