- Article by Online Editor
Practice – Sean Dix, dix design + architecture
Project – Public Restrooms, IFC Mall, Hong Kong
Location – Hong Kong
Text – Elizabeth Chu
Photography – Elden Cheung
Considering its design aesthetic, which is somewhere between a luxury yacht and a grand foyer, with details to suit either, it is remarkable to conceive of a restroom with quite such grandeur. That said the restroom is a public facility in the middle of IFC Mall, one of the busiest shopping precincts in Hong Kong, is unfathomable.
The idea that a queue will steadily snake its way to the main entrance from the beginning of the day to the end will give some insight into the use these facilities will suffer. And I do mean suffer. Every toilet, urinal and basin will be in constant use, all day every day.
With floors, walls and joinery details of the same matte white Corian and polished Perseus Dark Italian marble, the overall look is slightly space age, highly luxurious and staggeringly glam. “IFC mall is a Hong Kong landmark, the most important luxury mall in a city consumed by shopping.
“We were given the opportunity to reinvent IFC’s restrooms to reflect the prestige of the mall. Our idea was first to improve their efficiency, and to use a very limited palette of calm, matte, luxury materials and soft indirect lighting to provide guests of the mall with a small respite from the frenetic outside world,” says Sean Dix. Where it works or, perhaps, why it works is in the attention to detail. This is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution, but rather a considered use of a minimal palette to achieve a statement of elegant parts.
The urinals, for example, are each separated by a curved modesty panel, while the urinals themselves are positioned so that each user faces away from his neighbour’s back. It is a small detail, but a thoughtful one that increases privacy while cramming the urinals in as tightly as possible in this well-optimised space. This is further evidenced by the grouping of urinals into small but open rooms, rather than the perpetual line format most use. Toilet cubicles are similarly compact, but designed to read as a large continuous floating form with soft lighting emanating at top and bottom.
Lighting plays a very interesting role. With the restrooms large enough to manage feature lighting, the traditional Asian restroom emblem of glamour, Dix has chosen instead to float and backlight the ceiling for a far subtler effect. Can one really say subtle when the walls and floor are marble? Possibly not, but the result is exceptional and indeed a chandelier would have just belaboured the point.
One very lovely detail is found in the washbasin area where a curved wall of marble and similarly curved ceiling portion creates a particularly pleasing juncture. The crux of why the design works is most apparent here where the heaviness of the stone is rendered flexible, and the channel of illumination conveys a sense of lightness. The continuous matte white Corian moulded washbasins and lack of clutter convey another layer of sparse elegance, as does the seat, which has been cleverly integrated into the flow and provides the only means of respite for the restroom assistant.
Shopping is one of the great pastimes of Hong Kong, in fact it’s a pillar of Hong Kong tourism, so why not have restrooms as luxurious as the stores? Why not have that sense of glamour extended through the whole shopping experience? Strangely, the luxury of the IFC restrooms already feels normal and, with Dix engaged to methodically replace all facilities in the mall, it will be interesting to see how quickly the rest of Hong Kong follows suit.