It is a common comment among builders and contractors that the average house rots from the bathroom out. Since its ancient invention, indoor plumbing has long tended to be problematic because of the essential problem of waterproofing selective portions of the home. The long traditional use of ceramic or glass tile as a waterproofing barrier for walls has simply never worked, despite centuries of supposed refinement, because the introduction of numerous differing material interfaces along tile surfaces -the grid of grout lines between tiles. Consequently, bathrooms remain one of the most expensive and labor-intensive elements of a home and the most failure-prone with the highest rate of repair and renovation.
One would think more effort and invention across the Industrial Age would have been focused on this universal problem. But it was not until 1936 that a superior alternative to traditional western bathroom construction was devised -and by none-other than Buckminster Fuller. Concerned, even that early, about the growing hazards of poor hygiene worldwide, scarcity of clean water, and the high cost and inherent wastefulness of the modern bathroom, Fuller devised what he referred to as the Dymaxion Bathroom. Intended as part of the Dymaxion House concept, the Dymaxion Bathroom was based on a four press-formed stainless steel modular that, when assembled, created a completely water-proof bathroom unit integrating toilet, sink, tub, and shower into its minimally seamed surface.
Unfortunately, the Dymaxion Bathroom was -like so many of Fuller’s concept- a bit ahead of it time in terms of production technology and went a bit too far -for western sensibilities- with the inclusion of the concept of a packaging toilet for the recycling of human waste. Only in Europe did the original Dymaxion Bathroom design see production, and then only tentatively. Actually solving the fundamental shortcomings of the typical bathroom was not a priority for industrialists exploiting its built-in obsolescence.
The idea never really caught on until later in the 20th century with the demand for new technologies of rapid construction, particularly for mass housing, hotels, and cruise liners where the high labor overhead of traditional bathroom construction was greatly amplified. Thus the Dymaxion Bathroom was re-invented as the all-inclusive modular ‘ensuite’ bathroom or pod; a typically fiberglass or molded polycarbonate shell combining the elements of a complete compact bathroom. The term ‘ensuite’ originally referred to the combination of the common bathroom elements into a single room, which though common today was only recently so. It later came to denote a bathroom of very compact design. Today, it has become interchangeable with the concept of pre-fabricated bathrooms of whole-unit module or ‘pod’ design with some or all of the main elements of the bathroom integrated into a molded shell. Though still largely unknown in the US, the modular ensuite bathroom is now common in most of the rest of the world and is most commonly used in hotel, ship, and student dormitory construction.
The basic Utilihab building system is well suited to improved bathroom design by the combination of its rust, rot, and mold proof aluminum framing with the ability to readily attach modular plumbing components and the ability to employ novel uniform and waterproof paneling materials with that. Recycled HDPE, cast stone, stone veneer, foamed aluminum, and single-piece ceramic standard fitted wall panels offer an effective alternative to costly and failure-prone tile walls and are easily made water-tight with silicone along the much-reduced number of interfaces. But for even more simplicity and speed in construction, the Utilihab system features a series of advanced modular bathroom pods deriving from the Fuller concept designed as single or few piece shells that mount within the standard frame dimensions and attach directly to the Utilihab frame profiles.
The Utilihab bathroom pods come in two forms; single function pods and multi-function ensuite pods. The single function pods are designed around a unit 1m square width and depth, fitting within surrounding framing and linking along sides to form larger space shells. The basic units are sink, commode, shower, shower/ofuro (a 1m cubed Japanese style soaking tub), 2m shower/tub, bench alcove with shelving/cabinet, and interstitial space module. The multi-function pods are designed as whole single-shell rooms up to 3m square integrating all bathroom elements.
The pods are made of roto-molded foam-core HDPE with integral flanges for direct bolting to Primary and Secondary framing slots. They may use sub-floor support joists but need no flooring or finishing materials as the shells form floor, walls, and ceiling. Shells are designed to mount most hardware and all plumbing outside the shells, with access necessary from outside. By using translucent plastic, the shells may be illuminated from outside-mounted light fixtures or by skylights. The larger multi-function pods rely on the ready demountability of Utilihab components for ease of installation.
Early forms of the Bathroom Pads may be developed by repurposing some common industrial tanking. Though not supporting molded-in fixtures, these can provide a ready-made room shell in modest sizes.