This is an old revision of the document!

====== WcCafe ======


Toilets have been a source of taboo, embarrassment and humour in many cultures. This project explores the subject of toilets and defecation and aims to bring it out in the open. The intent is to create a cafe which makes toilet discussion a table discussion, thereby giving it legitimacy. ‘WcCafe’ would serve coffee and snacks in an environment which is beautiful, refreshing and purposeful.

It has three main purposes:

First is public awareness and education. The focus is to break the taboo associated with toilets and make it a mainstream discussion.

Second is to create a long term revenue stream for the people/organisations involved in realising the concept: namely, WTO (World Toilet Organisation), FoAM (interdisciplinary design research firm in Brussels) and VWO (voluntary welfare organisations).

Third is to act like a catalyst and trigger a sustainable sanitation movement for the 2.6 billion people globally who do not have access to proper sanitation. It would also act like an informal backdrop to lobby for a pro-sanitation movement through its franchise outlets globally.

brief summary of the cultural, scientific and social context within which the research took place

The research started in New Delhi, India and proceeded through follow up exchanges between the design consultant, Sanjeev Shankar; the producer, FoAM, represented by Maja Kuzmanovic and the client, World Toilet Organisation, represented by Jack Sim. Thereafter, the research base shifted to Singapore where we had site-visits and discussions with the client and the target groups. The project has also been benefited by two meetings between the client and the producer in Paris and Dalian, China.

Geographic location

Singapore is a successful model of rapid growth and transformation in Asia. A dynamic and vibrant city, it is also the home of the World Toilet Organisation (WTO) and the World Toilet College (WTC). WTO is a non-profit organization, established in Singapore in 2001. It communicates the need for better toilet standards in both the developed and developing economies of the world and provides a service platform for all toilet associations, related organizations and committed individuals to facilitate an exchange of ideas relating to health and cultural issues. WTC which was started by WTO in 2005 is a dedicated institution that offers training programs such as Restroom Design Course, Restroom Specialist Training Course and Ecological Sanitation Course. It strives to “change the reality of low image, low morale and low pay toilet cleaners, and train them to become all round managers.”

With its strong economic position, Singapore has often been an attractive place for testing ideas in Asia. Demographically, it is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation with Chinese, Indians and Malays forming the core of the population. These are mostly descendants of immigrants who came to Singapore to take advantage of the economic opportunities made available by the founding of modern Singapore by Raffles in 1819.

Socio Cultural Context

The research has had a global vision. It looks at the taboo associated with sanitation at two levels. First and more importantly, it is applicable to all the regions in the world which need improvement in their basic sanitation standards. These places located mostly in third world countries in Asia and Africa have, abysmally poor sanitation standards and there has been very little effort from the government or private bodies to change the status. People in these parts are constantly exposed to grave risks and often succumb to poor hygienic conditions arising out of this situation. Government apathy, public ignorance and hesitation to confront the topic have often been the main reasons for this situation. Further, lack of basic resources essentially water has also added to the burden. There is a deep link between the prevalent water crisis and the sanitation crises. There is a possibility here for leapfrogging by introducing toilets which use little or no water.

On the other hand the research also explores ways and means to make the sanitation system in the developed world more efficient and sustainable. This has become a growing concern globally with depletion of water resources which is a top priority for most governments.

Though, there have been efforts to address the issue of sanitation, a lot of these are plagued by the nature of this topic and the hesitation to discuss it in the open. This has been observed and discussed with the director of WTO who has witnessed this attitude in varying degrees across different sections of societies in different cultures. The thrust of this research and thereby this project is to use a different approach: an informal, unusual method to raise awareness about sanitation in a well planned, refreshing and strategic manner and thereby direct the benefits arising out of this to improve the situation globally.

description of how the work relates to other works in the field of inquiry

This work explores issues of sanitation, food and hygiene, sustainability and social enterprise. In addition to exploring informal ways in which this subject has been tackled in the past, the work also explores innovative methods of funding and hopes to improvise by creating a business model based on bringing people and companies with common interests together. It further holds great potential to create a precedent for businesses globally to become more ecologically sustainable, socially responsible and monetarily profitable all at the same time. There is further scope for exploring new approaches to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), possibly on the lines of ‘creative commons’. However, this needs to be clarified further in discussion with the producer and the client.

Some of the projects which have dealt with similar fields of inquiry are discussed below:

(1)Sulabh Toilet MuseumItalic Text in New Delhi envisioned by Dr. Brihadeshwara Pathak the founder of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, a pioneering non-profit voluntary organisation in the field of Sanitation in India. The museum is dedicated entirely to the history of toilets and displays their evolution. It also now has a laboratory and carries out research to develop sustainable sanitation solutions for Indian conditions.

It has been established with the following objectives:- (a)To provide information to researchers about the design, materials, and technologies adopted in the past and those in use in the contemporary world; (b)To educate students about the historical trends in the development of toilets; ©To help policy makers to understand the efforts made by predecessors in this field throughout the world; (d)To help the manufacturers of toilet equipment and accessories in improving their products by functioning as a technology storehouse; and (e)To help sanitation experts learn from the past and solve problems in the sanitation sector.

This model rates highly on research, sustainability and social responsibility fronts. However, it is not envisioned as being a source of revenue. It is also located far away from the mainstream crowd in Delhi and holds little novelty to bring the people back. It also serves an educational purpose for both researchers and the public alike.

(2)Toilet restaurant in Taiwan: Marton Theme Restaurant, named after the Chinese word “matong” for toilet, opened in May 2004 in Taiwan's second largest city, Kaohsiung. Conceived by Eric Wang, the restaurant displays toilet seats studded with flowers and shells, colourful bathtubs, faucets, mirrors and shower curtains. The unusual theme is proving a draw for customers eager to eat food off plates and bowls shaped like western loo seats as well as Japanese “squat toilets”. The restaurant is synonymous with laughter and humour and is all set to expand through a franchise business model. This model rates highly from the profitability angle but does not go beyond being a gimmick. It rates poorly on the social responsibility and sustainability pointers and is certainly not different from other theme restaurants globally. However it does bring people’s fascination with the subject of toilets out into the open.

(3)WC1 on Oxford Street, London is a ladies luxury toilet and powder room. The environment uses curved pebble walls, rich woods, stone floors and a graphic language which supports the theme. The services offered include de-stressing massages and beauty products. Offered to the public at a price of 1 pound the place ranks favourably with the ladies. The model rates highly from the profitability and service angle. However it fails to go beyond that.

(4)Sketch, London. A theatrical restaurant cum bar, Sketch is a constantly evolving and changing place which engages the people by offering an atmosphere that combines food with video art and music, complete with a gallery, a lecture room, library, parlour and the glade. It is conceived by French master chef Pierre Gagnaire.


.Concise summary of the problem domain that the research explores, or the specific aims of the research undertaken

As stated before, the aim of the project is to design a ‘WcCafe’.

Phase 1 of the project has the following objectives:

  1. Ordered List Item To communicate with the producer to define project scope.
  2. Ordered List Item To meet the client in Singapore; visit the site and analyse the needs and wishes of the client on a first hand basis.

Information gathering for this project and the field of sanitation in general (on-site, online, literature and interviews). Research on forms, materials and environmental sustainability To make a detailed report with proposal for collaborative design which includes: structure, approach, strategy, draft concepts, project duration, budget and team details. A critical challenge in this project is to explore ways of communicating the subject without it appearing vulgar, disgusting or gimmicky. Further, meaningfully integrating toilet waste into the cafe life-cycle and demonstrating this for people to see the no-waste, sustainable idea is crucial. Exploring different options of urban farming in the form of fragrant orchid gardens with white LEDs or vegetable fields with metal halide spotlights is worth exploring as a direction. For the first franchise, the target audience is from the age of 15 to 35 years and comprises middle class Singaporeans. The café must brand and differentiate itself from the existing café and food outlets in Singapore. The project has to strike a balance between being monetarily profitable, ecologically sustainable, socially responsible and aesthetically pleasing. The research must be pragmatic and must take into account the underlying practicalities of the situation which includes time constraints, budgetary issues and site constraints. It must be flexible as the concept has to be applied to different franchises in different countries.

Justification of the aims _ Sanitation is a taboo subject in many cultures and continues to be ignored by the people and governments globally. This project holds the promise of being an innovative informal method to bring out this subject in the open. _ It is an interesting business model which tries to strike a balance between social responsibility, ecological sustainability and business profitability. _ Further by establishing a clear relationship between food consumption, hygiene and the topic of sanitation it differentiates itself. _ There are 2.6 billion people in the world without access to proper sanitation. WcCafe can act as a lobbying point for promoting safe, affordable and sustainable sanitation for this section. Further it can bring forth the need to create sufficient urban toilets globally which are clean, safe and a pleasure to use. _ By using a leveraging model and by having a strong social development angle, it is in a good position to get support in the form of funding from the government and private sector. _ It can also act as a source of revenue for WTO, FoAM and VWO.

Methods concise description of the way the research has been developed from establishing the problem definition to the final results The research started with preliminary discussions between the producer and the design consultant to define the project scope. Thereafter the design consultant built up a series of questions which were used as triggers in the discussion between him and the client and these directly contributed in establishing the problem. The discussions started remotely in New Delhi and then happened in Singapore. They were constantly informed by site visits, interviews and analysis of observations made of successful new business enterprises in Singapore. Some of these questions and the initial responses are listed below: _ Why bring attention to toilets and excrement? “This is the core of this project. The intent is to make things public; to speak about the unspoken; to bring things out of embarrassment and make it fashionable to talk about and to show the reality to the common man. The focus here is the common man, the human body and its processes.”

_ What is the most crucial role of this platform? “To make toilet discussion a table discussion and to openly discuss toilets, defecation, toilet culture, hygiene and food habits.”

_ Who is the target audience in Singapore? “Middle class, young groups between 15 to 35 years who believe in ‘cheap, fast and good’ products. The price of coffee should be a maximum of 3 dollars. There will be a range of accompanying snacks which will be specified later.”

_ What is the niche market? Who are the stakeholders? “To be tried out on a leverage model. Basic fit out for the first unit to be possibly done on WTO representative Jack Sim’s existing building. Cost for fit out to be borne by interested groups (government / private sector) who will be willing partners. The design will be owned by FoAM and through the first fit out we (WTO and FoAM) will test the idea and thereafter explore franchise options.”

_ Will we look at the broader picture? “Yes. The goal is to create a shift in the minds of people; a switch from the usual perception of toilets.”

_ Will the toilets here be different from those next door? “This is not a prerequisite.”

_ What are the models / types of WcCafe? “We are looking at three models: first is a take away, where the focus is on the exterior skin. Second is based on the existing McCafe model: like an Al Fresco, with 100 to 150 sq ft built up area and a maximum of 4 employees. Open, minimal and simple seating in public space. There is no air-conditioning and people sit for short durations. The story board would look like this: Customer comes; buys a drink and small snack (e.g.: coffee with toast) ; sits ‘one to one’ on a small table and leaves in 15 minutes. Third model is about 500 sq ft; indoor, air-conditioned space. People sitting in micro environments which gives them options with varying levels of privacy. Here the seating space is part of the fit out and the duration of a customer inside the café could go upto 30 minutes.”

The research in Singapore was preceded by a visit to the toilet museum in New Delhi and the launch of the film ‘Fecal Attraction’ along with a detailed study by CSE (centre for science and environment) of the sanitation situation in New Delhi. A brief summary of this film and the study has been included in the references list at the end of this report. In Singapore, the focus gradually shifted from analyzing popular public spaces and interesting business models to exploring possible sites for the WcCafe. A brief study of outlets which come closest to the WcCafe concept was carried out and used as a reference to create a strategy for the WcCafe. We realized that though the project has a unique advantage in being the first of its kind there are two issues which have to be carefully looked at. The first and most crucial issue is that of funding. Further discussions brought out the need to create a clear strategy for procuring funds and inviting possible partners/sponsors for this project from the government and private sector. These discussions also resulted in some innovative ways of raising money from interested groups which will be discussed later in this report. Next was the issue of a physical location for the WcCafe. This was crucial for the project as the three models envisioned for the WcCafe must be tested out in a real space. After numerous visits to places in shopping malls, popular markets and streets in Singapore, it was felt that these too should be explored further especially since it is directly dependent on the funding available for the project. It must be noted that, the client, Jack Sim who is also the director of the World Toilet Organization has offered his place as a possible location to launch WcCafe. However these locations are not suited to the launch of WcCafe and it is therefore suggested that other more mainstream locations with a strong possibility of higher footfall be explored for the same. One of the potential places seen for the café was the ‘Highpoint Social Enterprise Ark’ jointly inaugurated by the MCDYS (Ministry for community development, youth and sports) and the Ministry for trade and Industry. This model currently employs people from VWO (voluntary welfare organization). The site is situated in a DRA (designated red light area) in Singapore and currently houses a restaurant which is reserved for special occasions.

  • wccafe_report.1202818388.txt.gz
  • Last modified: 2008-02-12 12:13
  • by sanjeev