In the 1920s and 30s, a period of runaway industrialization in America, the designer and inventor Buckminster Fuller was inventing new ideas about long-term human survival and sustainability, many of which have proved astonishingly prescient.
While Fuller is best known for his work on geodesic domes, construction systems which proved a beautiful distillation of his synergetic approach to ideas, few people know about his bathroom.
The 1930s was a time when waterborne sewerage and wastewater plumbing had taken hold in American households. While tremendous optimism accompanied this, epitomized by the streamlined, smooth and shiny appearances of bath “fixtures” (thus named as they were fixed to unseen infrastructures), Fuller disliked the waste of clean water, with sewage swept away to unsustainable treatment systems.
The Dymaxion Bathroom was Fuller’s answer in 1936: a pre-fabricated structure for mass-production and low-impact installation, featuring new concepts for human hygiene: a “Fog Gun” steam shower allegedly capable of cleaning a person with 240mL of water, and a urine-separating, packaging toilet that would shrink-wrap waste for later composting. Fuller commented that “Nature had designed humans to separate urine and excrement. Both are valuable chemistry, and should be collected for further use.”*
Here we are almost 80 years later, and 30 years after Fuller’s death, with a packaging toilet solution, albeit quite different. Recently, we were thrilled to become Semi-Finalists of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, an award conceived by his Foundation to celebrate work that would have interested him.
Meanwhile, popular culture has begun to recognize that waterborne sewage systems are unsustainable, and that toilet systems should generate value from urine and feces, in “transformative technologies.” We reckon that Fuller would have a lot to say about the new directions of 21st Century toilets.