Knock-Knock: A solution for sanitation saga is here
Viswanathan Sridhar, architect and urban development practitioner, speaks about his latest creation — mobile public toilets
CHENNAI: It was a normal day for architect Viswanathan Sridhar and two of his female colleagues until the search for a public toilet rendered them helpless. Finding a clean and safe space to change their sanitary napkins in neighbourhoods like Parry’s Corner, Broadway and Georgetown became an arduous task.
They tried going to almost 12 shops to request the need but all in vain. Finally, they stepped into a bank asking for help and picked up a small argument with the manager to use the restroom. This eventful day sowed the seed of innovation, the creation of a mobile public toilet, in the minds of the architects. “The incident that happened in April 2020 made us survey 150 people (80 women and 70 men).
It helped us understand what can be done as an urban intervention for public convenience. After one and a half years, we created mobile public toilets which are accessible, clean, and hygienic. We have created a one-of-a-kind model that is mobile, single personal use, and can be mounted on a cycle,” shares Viswanathan.
Rooting for solution
Rather than building immediate solutions, the focus is to create an ecosystem that generates systematic change. Viswanathan’s knowledge from his graduation days and the experience from the Urban Fellowship Programme at the Indian Institute of Human Settlements, Bengaluru, and policymaking at the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board helped him design the mobile public toilet. To begin with, the four-member team made a checklist to address all the problems.
Viswanathan says, “We set up a priority list with the gender on top. We wanted to create a toilet for everyone. Next, we addressed the issues of persons with disabilities. The toilet also has to be clean, self-sufficient, sustainable, and rooted.”
For building the prototype, the team used Kirigami as their base. “Just like origami which is folding paper, Kirigami is cutting and folding. We followed Kirigami as a concept and formed a module out of it. A prototype that we can unfold and extend to invite people, especially wheelchair users, was the aim. We wanted the prototype to be mounted on any vehicle,” explains Viswanathan.
They made two prototypes — one which can be set up on a cycle and another that can be mounted on a heavy vehicle. He says, “On a cycle, it is just one person using the module. On a heavy vehicle, it can be used by five people at the same time.”
While designing took eight to ten months, layering the module with technical details, the functioning, and making it mobile took another six months, he adds.
Even though it started as a branch of his architectural firm Odds Studio LLP, the architect is now steering the project as a separate start-up.
The project is still in the developing stage and has received funding from the Entrepreneurship Development Institute for Innovation, Tamil Nadu.
Crescent Incubation and Innovation Centre, Chennai, University of Waterloo, School of Architecture and Planning, Waterloo, Canada are their knowledge partners and SPI Edge is the supporting organisation.
They have come up with separate strategies for both rural and urban areas to tackle all the issues.
Viswanathan details, “In the urban areas, we want to follow a top-down approach as urban areas are at the brim of saturation, and we are already facing problems like a public convenience. Our focus will be to address the problems to check and see if we can reduce urban defecation or urban urination. In rural areas, it will be a bottom-up approach where we want to see tweaking the behavioural patterns to understand if public conveniences are a need of the hour in times of rapid urbanisation.”