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Flushed with success
What are the fundamentals of designing lavatories for aircraft?
To install the components of a bathroom on a floor area measuring just one square metre and to transform the passenger’s visit into a refreshing sojourn during the flight – that’s the challenge. All the elements must be positioned logically and in a way that is self-explanatory to passengers – regardless of where in the world they come from – as a means of ensuring comfort and hygiene. Aesthetic flair, ambition and hard work culminate in a harmonious blend of shapes, light, decor, colours and materials. Needless to say, a few good ideas to enhance the function and allocation of space don’t go astray, either. If more floor area is available (such as in Lufthansa’s first class), the added space must be used intelligently to achieve heightened comfort, convenience and customer benefits.
(Above: Standard A380 lavatory)
The introduction of the A380 has seen some very luxurious first-class bathroom concepts – what are the opportunities here for real product differentiation?
Airlines should present themselves authentically. A passenger on board a carrier such as Lufthansa will not mind if there are no gold-plated faucets, but he does expect high quality, clear design and sophistication down to the very last detail. On the other hand, our designs for other airlines may be a little more playful. For example, we are currently developing an upholstery fabric with a floral pattern for a South American airline. You can install novelties such as showers and urinals or you can engineer aesthetically designed items that function exactly as they should. The aim is also to make the passenger forget that he is on board the aircraft and to give him the illusion of travelling in privacy, even though he is surrounded by hundreds of other passengers.
(Above: The first-class bathroom on Lufthansa's A380, picture courtesy of Lufthansa & Pixomondo)
What can be done to improve things in economy class?
Such a complex space as an aircraft lavatory cannot be designed with extravagant gestures. That said, although common sense forms the foundation, it is only attention to detail that makes a product truly good. In the current Airbus long-range lavatories for example, we have designed over 50 individual items, ranging from coat hooks to ventilation grills, in accordance with a space organisation concept. The overarching principle in all of this was to create a harmonious whole and to ensure ease of use for the passenger despite the cramped conditions.
Would gender-specific lavatories improve things?
Yes and no. On long-haul aircraft, replacing some of the lavatories with a more compact urinal module would allow more seats to be fitted, while enhancing convenience and hygiene for both sexes. So, the answer is basically yes. However, setting up two identical standard lavatories labelled Gentlemen and Ladies could cause problems in practice as to which lavatory is for whom. In addition, it must be clear to even the sleepiest passenger which lavatory is the right one (and the problems which could occur in practice are not difficult to imagine). Another problem with alternating frequency of men and women is the longer waiting times. And the technical problems that occur quite frequently then lead to congestion. So the answer is – not necessarily.
PRM is of increasing concern – what impact do you see this having?
Universal design entails the necessity for products to be readily understood as well as accessible by passengers in wheelchairs or requiring the assistance of a companion. For many years we have been including in our designs a version that can be accessed by wheelchair. In addition, of course, PRM assistance may also result in improvements for all other passengers as well – more space to move, readily accessible towels, clear and understandable operability. For airlines, this is also a question of image and marketing – a factor that they can actively promote and use as a competitive factor.
If airlines charged for lavatory use, do you think we would see better facilities? (As they would make money!)
On the contrary – a lavatory that you have to pay to use is visited less frequently and thus becomes less important and deteriorates in quality. In our view, the whole notion is narrow-minded and inhospitable. However, this is really a question of billing – after all, passengers pay more for the first- or business-class interior, which is thus financed in this way. To be honest, I think the ideas aired by low-cost carriers are just gags aimed at generating press attention and ultimately to present themselves as cheap.
What lavatory concepts are you currently working on?
At the moment, we are working with Dasell on a modular lavatory in numerous different versions that can be selected in a configurator. The different versions help to customise the standard lavatories. This avoids chaotic and costly tinkering as well as a collection of flaps, vases, labels and frames of little aesthetic merit. Despite this, the system permits a very high degree of customisation in terms of fittings and appearance at acceptable expense.
Windows in aircraft lavatories – good or bad?
If you don’t mind the sun looking in at you, then it’s definitely a good idea. The only challenge is that you have an additional source of light, meaning that you have to make sure that the materials that have been developed all glow in the right hues.
About the author: Jens Romca, 45, is managing associate at müller/romca industrial design, which has 18 years of experience in the aircraft interiors industry. The company boasts a team of 10, located in Hamburg and Kiel, Germany. It has developed more than ten aircraft lavatories, starting with the standard lavatories for the entire Airbus long-range fleet back in 1997, and followed by the design of standard lavatories for the A380. The company has worked with Lufthansa for eight years, on products such as first-class bathrooms for the airline’s A380, which have also been adapted by müller/romca for Lufthansa’s entire fleet – from A330s to Boeing 7478-Is. The latest Lufthansa project was the design of its Boeing 744 cabin. Currently mueller/romca is working on a VIP interior, a modular lavatory with Dasell, and a refurbishment for a South American airline.
A feature looking at aircraft lavatory design and technology was published in the July 2011 issue of Aircraft Interiors International – click here to read it