22 September 2009

Sustainable Shower

In this poetic invention, a team led by designer Jun Yasumoto envisions a self-sustaining eco-system that utilizes the natural filtering qualities of plants to purify drainage from the shower and sink. The water is then recycled. junyasumoto.com


  1. My favorite comment, among the tens of thousands that must be out there — I did not read them all — is, "The 'deluxe' model comes with leeches and mosquitoes." I logged on to answer your comment about hand showers. I was about to say that hand showers are perfectly good and safe for outdoor use. I never imagined that you would come up with an outdoorsy shower in the meantime.

    The word "bathroom," which you avoided, but which Yasumoto did not, struck me immediately. It's not really a bathroom shower, it's a backyard shower, though I suppose you could power it with grow lights. On further thought, it's not really a backyard shower either, unless your backyard is truly spacious.

    A five minute shower using current federal standards requires about seven to eight gallons of water. That's a five minute shower, so keep your watch handy. Older, pre-mandate systems require upwards of 20 gallons for the same five minutes and, obviously, twice as much for a ten minute shower.

    So, I asked myself what the capacity of such a shower might be. It looks to be less than one foot deep. One cubic foot equals about 7.5 gallons of water. Much of the shower is platform, and beneath the platform is filtration equipment. No mention of pumps that I could see. Maybe I missed it. If this were a multimedia presentation, we could hear the model shrieking, "OMG, this water is freezing," though it looks so bright and cheery, so green and inviting in the rendering. Hasn't PhotoShop changed the face of the modern world? And then I wondered how much water the system could give up in one day. Phyto-filtration is not an instant process. It's not like brewing a cup of coffee. You can't pour ten cups in, expect nine and three quarters cups to filter through and then come back tomorrow. If that were the case, you could empty lakes once every morning and fill them up over night and expect their delicate ecologies to be placed on hold. On the other hand, if you remove one hundred gallons from an entire lake and replenish it with filtered water over night, no one's the wiser. You have to work within the tolerance of the system. Not everything can be miniaturized by the mere process of division.

    "After posting their seven-year-old design on the internet," reports Kaumudi the eggheads [all graduates of L'Ecole Nationale Supirieure de Creation Industrielle, frequently referred to incorrectly as scientists] have been inundated with queries about where their shower can be bought." Presumably, no one thought to ask, "Does it work?"

  2. And this is why the world needs engineers as much as artists.
    Your last paragraph, Evan, raises a point about how product concepts are received that perpetually frustrates me: The addiction to materialism that, even in this economic crisis, continues to thrive in so many people. Buy first, think later. Sigh.

  3. Or don't think at all. Thanks for responding.

  4. Terry Glenn Phipps25 September, 2009

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  5. Terry Glenn Phipps25 September, 2009

    @Leslie, It has always been difficult for me to parse what phrases like "addiction to materialism" actually mean. Arguably, the culture that would exist around kitchens and baths is a collective of acquisition? However, the instinct to nest at least involves the manifold bits that the psyche packs around the concept of home. We're surely up to other things as well when we over-feather our nests. Perhaps some of that has to do with mating and attraction. Are we crows? Maybe we're beavers building dams? Owing to our history, I suppose, Americans seem gravitationally drawn to a Calvinist view of our collective behavior. The conflict between materialism and asceticism is one of the core tensions in the American story. The latest thesis proclaims the me generation as materialistic and death obsessed; out for a spin "Thelma & Louise" style, and prepared to run the whole planet over a cliff in one last blaze of glory. What is it about us boomers that inspired our elders to repudiate us to the point we have come to loathe ourselves so thoroughly? Why do we embrace our morally questionable self image while our chicken-in-every-pot progenitors are seen as saviors of G-d and country? Is it not they who gave us wholesale death in world war and peace through mutually-assured destruction? We are all left, even the true madmen like our last President, to go on fighting the battles our father’s lost. These days my view is how I treat other people, and how I allow other people to treat me, comes to bear more tellingly than the moral propriety of my shower nozzle. After watching this sisyphean drama play out for the last 45 years, I don’t have the energy left to keep up with the Jones’s ethical shell game. I take your point about engineering. 100 years ago men like Irving Gill believed that it was possible to build dwellings that actually made their occupants healthier. In the 1930’s the architect Richard Neutra installed Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion bathroom in the Brown residence on Fisher’s Island. The Browns were New England brahmin, amongst the wealthiest families in the land. Still, they embraced Fuller’s thesis that elegant engineering could eliminate the necessity for unpleasant compromise. I really doubt that any bathroom of comparable efficiency has been “invented” since. Neutra believed so passionately in the power of architectural efficiency to enhance personal and community health, that he penned “Survival Through Design” in 1959, a treatise as ignored then as it is now. If addiction to materialism means that I want to feel safe and comfortable in my home then, hello, my name is Terry, and I am an addict. When my own home won’t treat me nicely then how can I be expected to restrain myself from the odd public outburst? How can I be cheerful after having flushed my water-saving toilet for the tenth time in the vain hope of getting it to void? The instinct to acquire, to nest, to mate, even to excess is the most potent force available for social transformation. When efficiency is glamorous, functional, and scientifically sound people will work themselves to death in order to acquire efficiency. Righteousness is fatiguing, especially when the self-appointed referees keep changing the rules. Shopping is fun. The vision of modernism was utopian to the extent that it was sold as morally correct. It is the movement that was wrong not its aims. Freed from the pink preachiness of mid-century Silverlake and Santa Monica the idea of an engineered future makes perfect sense. The motor runs on desire.

  6. An FYI to readers about the 'deleted post' note above: I mistakenly posted TGP's comments twice, and so removed the duplicate post. NOT an editorial gesture, simply mechanical.

  7. [Part I] As long as we agree that things go in one end and come out the other, we can probably agree that kitchens and bathrooms are a necessity. Also, the more we think about it, the more likely we are to see that the two should be kept separate. Yet, considering them in a single blog has a poetical roundness to it, even if it overlooks the laundry room. If you threw that in (Kitchen, Bath & Buanderie — KBBCULTURE) you could account for almost all the work that goes on in the average home, besides sleeping, procreating and watching television.

    Thinking about kitchens, bathrooms (and buanderies) is not the same as collecting or possessing them. There is a season for all things, for building and demolishing, for rethinking, revising, redesigning, revamping, for upgrading, simplifying, perfecting, and just plain starting over. Unfortunately, in that process materialism often raises it's ugly head.

    We had a visitor a while back who showed us a picture of a "pimped out" Apple system that he positively lusted for. We were sitting at the kitchen table, so I include this in kitchen discussions. It had 8 processor cores, 32GB of RAM, 4TB of storage with another box that could house the Library of Congress, 3 monitors, and for all I know gigahertz and a cable connection. Plus a million or so songs and all the videos you could watch in a lifetime. You could play three of them at once. It was also loaded with every software program imaginable, including a few that hadn't been invented yet. There are Porsches that cost less. I asked him how much of that machine he was likely to use for email, browsing and dinking around with PhotoShop. He said, "I don't care. I want it."

    We had friends in Orange County (south of Los Angeles) with a formal dining room that sat fourteen, a kitchen that could serve three hundred if you brought in staff — builders never budget for that — a media wall with multiple TVs and a fireplace that had never been lit, spiraling staircases that lead to corridors that lead to hallways that eventually lead to bedrooms with huge walk-in closets that, much to their shame, were not yet full. And the tiniest backyard you've ever seen. The weekend we visited, one of the kitchen islands was covered with MacDonalds bags. It was their turn to feed the team.

    During WWII, my mother stayed with a friend whose father owned a ship yard. With the war and all, he was worth a bundle. One of his kids built a house in Long Beach, which was a thriving town back then. The house had ten bathrooms. It had lots of other rooms too, but the father, the source of the funds that built the house, and a very practical steel and rivets man, shook his head and said, "You couldn't drink enough to use all of them." His house had two bathrooms — one for the master bedroom and one for everyone else.

  8. [Part II] The excesses that I've indicated — and I've only scratched the surface — are forms of creeping materialism. Things for the sake of things. In the 1960s House Beautiful did a spread on a very interesting house done all in red (shades and shades of red) by a brilliant young designer named David Davis. His first job was the tiny tract house we moved to in 1958. By the time he did the house in red we could no longer afford him. The house was on one of the Rolling Hills Country Club fairways. The owners were doctors, specialists who worked ten to twelve hours a day and were often on call. They did not play golf and they absolutely did not cook. They ate all their meals in restaurants or at the club. If you looked at the plans for their house, unless you were Leslie, of course, you might fail to notice that it had no kitchen. They made do with a nook near their bedroom for coffee and soft drinks, like you might find in a doctor's office. Their counterparts in present day Orange County might not be satisfied until their unused kitchen had every possible modular appliance in the range, with double the ovens and dishwashers. But these wonderful eccentrics lived in a beautiful home in a beautiful setting that cost nothing less than a small fortune without being materialistic. Everything they owned served a purpose. Mostly that purpose was comfort.

    Sarojini Naidu once joked, see The Time 100, that "it cost the nation a fortune to keep Gandhi living in poverty." Sometimes paradoxes emerge. Expensive things can be examples of extreme simplicity just as things costing almost nothing can be examples of pure acquisitive­ness. Having things vs. having the right things is a perpetual challenge. Also, birds feather their nests during mating season not to attract mates, but to protect the eggs that they will care for. The rest of the year they fly around, eat worms and enjoy the sunshine.

  9. I can not tell you how enjoyable it is to read such well-reasoned, well-principled comments. Thank you, Evan and Terry.


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