Kohler’s quest to reinvent the toilet

reinvent the toilet86 years ago, the Kohler Company was featured at the New York Museum of Modern Art with an exhibition titled Modern Bath and Dressing Room. The subject of the exhibit was to showcase the bath of the future.

Today, the engineers at Kohler are back at it.

Running from November 22, 2014 to May 10, 2015, Kohler’s newest contribution to the MoMA will be an altogether different view of bathrooms yet to come. With the global population on track to surpass 8 billion people within a decade and a half, we must seek out new and innovative ways for dealing with waste in burgeoning metropolises.

We must, in essence, reinvent the toilet. Kohler, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is on the case.

Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities

Kohler’s primary contribution to the project is the prototype for a solar-powered water treatment and toilet unit. Accompanying the pioneering display is a series of projects and essays produced by leading urban and architectural scholars from around the world.

A partnership of 6 interdisciplinary research teams generated architectural possibilities for 6 global mega cities – Rio, Istanbul, Hong Kong, Lagos, New York and Mumbai.

Reinvent the Toilet Challenge

Sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in collaboration with Kohler, the Reinvent The Toilet Challenge dared research teams at eight different universities to develop a solution for delivering safe sanitation services to the two and a half billion people across the globe who do not currently have access to modern waste management technology.

The challenge stipulated that all designs function in off-the-grid scenarios with no connections to water, sewer or electrical lines. The foundation provided grants to each team to fund research and construction of their prototype.

A group of doctoral students at CalTech were the winners of the competition. They devised a mobile restroom solution, equipped with a freestanding, self-contained wastewater treatment system.

The treatment system is solar powered and generates both hydrogen and electricity. It’s capable of storing sufficient energy during daylight hours to function at night. The toilets and bathroom fixtures were, of course, provided by Kohler.

The prototype travels to India

It’s estimated that 600 million of the world’s 1 billion people with no access to bathroom facilities live in India. When CalTech prepared to travel overseas to run real world tests on their innovative self-contained wastewater treatment system, Kohler offered to donate additional toilets and fixtures so that further prototypes could be built.

While some industry experts criticize the CalTech proposal as being too advanced to provide a real solution to India’s present day sanitation woes, Michael Hoffman, environmental science professor and leader of the CalTech, defended the design.

Hoffman contends that technology has prevailed in the past where other methodologies have failed. “This can be done,” he said via email. “Fifty years ago, computers were too costly and complicated for the average person. Today almost everyone carries a computer in their pocket.”

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