An Overlooked Icon?

Inspired by ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’, and with the a new perspective on what might be great design, I would like to explore the humble, flushing toilet bowl.

Watching the ‘Throw Down’ I was struck by how much more there was to the design of a toilet than I thought- this was demonstrated by one potter’s toilet firing water at one of the judges when they tried to flush it due to a terrible/ non-existent rim, another’s failing to flush all the water away because the shape was wrong and another’s left without any water at all after flushing because the u-bend didn’t work!

All these years I had imagined the toilet bowl to be a fairly simple thing with all the important mechanics happening in the actual flushing mechanism in the tank- but I was wrong. So much of the toilets success comes from the form of the bowl!

The rim has to be designed in such a way that the water comes out, at force hitting the front and the back of the bowl, while at the same time not firing water out of the bowl. In addition to this the bowl has to be the right shape at the bottom to allow all the water to leave smoothly, again without any water splashing out and the shape is also vital to the proper working of the U-bend, and then of course there’s the U-bend itself! Until researching for this blog I hadn’t fully acknowledged the importance of the u-bend. The u-bend we recognise today was designed by Thomas Crapper in 1880, developed from a similar plumbing bend (the S-bend) designed in 1775  by Alexander Cummings. The U-bend, essentially, stops our toilets smelling and being all round disgusting. The u-bend creates a water trap, ie. that bit of water that is always at the bottom of the toilet and this little pool of water prevents the gases from the sewers drifting back up our plumbing and into our homes! Outstanding!

What really makes the humble toilet great design though is how revolutionary the flushing toilet was in its time and how well the original form has stood the test of time. Since the Victorian era when the flushing toilet was invented and commercialised the design has barely changed. Why? Simply because it works, it works so well that in all that time we have changed nearly nothing about the toilet bowl. All that has been done are minor alterations to the overall aesthetic.

That is seriously impressive, apart from the ‘safety’ bicycle I can’t really think of anything else that has changed so little in so much time!

The toilet bowl is incredibly functional, pleasing in form and capable of being beautiful without it’s function being compromised and has remained the same for a century because it works so darn well- if that isn’t great design , then I don’t know what is!

I’d also like to give an honourable mention to the toilet bowl featured in this blog image- it was made by Ryan, one of the contestants on this years ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’. He made a turtle to make the toilet seem less frightening to children (adorable and very clever), and lets face it, it’s beautiful- if I could I would have this in my house!


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