Located on the grounds of the Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport in Amritsar, India, Toilet 01 is more than a much-needed public amenity. It’s the latest physical embodiment of years of research by R+D Studio into more sustainable construction practices, and a shining example of how conscientious design can positively address urban challenges. 

Toilet 01 by R+D Studio India

Co-founded in 2008 by architect Shridhar Rao, R+D Studio (with offices in Delhi and Dubai) constantly explores how process and production norms in the architecture industry can be redefined and improved, with a special focus on material research and sustainability. The firm is always on the look-out for new and innovative ways of building, and the Toilet 01 module is a direct result of that – built from 100 per cent recyclable materials, the public washroom aims to set a precedent for environmentally responsible construction practices. 

Toilet 01 by R+D Studio India

While the main players in the Quonset hut-style shelter’s construction include PVC pipes, mild steel angles and HDHMR (High Density High Moisture Resistance) boards, it’s the firm’s own silica plastic blocks and planks that steal the show. Made from plastic waste and foundry dust, the silica composite blocks stem from a previous project – a masterplan for a factory site – where the designers noticed piles of garbage bags filled with dust and waste occupying a large amount of floor space. “This got us engaged in a conversation with the client and a few iterations later we had a working alternative to conventional building materials,” says Rao. “We patented the material and formed a start-up company [Green Banana] to seriously pursue this path and we slowly started using it in small projects, like Toilet 01.”

Toilet 01 by R+D Studio Advances Sustainable Building Practices
Toilet 01 by R+D Studio Advances Sustainable Building Practices
Toilet 01 by R+D Studio Advances Sustainable Building Practices

The recycled and recyclable blocks and planks are made by Green Banana from a combination of 80 per cent silica/foundry dust and 20 per cent mixed plastic waste, with the latter acting as a binding agent that eliminates the need for water during the mixing and curing processes. Rao and his team at R+D Studio have found the silica plastic pieces to be two-to-three-times stronger than conventional clay bricks, and individual elements can be produced from scratch in less than five minutes and used as soon as they are cool to the touch after moulding; in comparison, red clay bricks typically require a two-week production period. 

Toilet 01 by R+D Studio India

Set on a thin, poured-concrete foundation, Toilet 01 is comprised of a mild steel angle skeleton to which 1,000 plastic silica planks are affixed as cladding; produced in 1.2 metre lengths, the planks were cut in half to fit seamlessly within the frame. The Quonset hut form was chosen to “ensure that there was minimal chance of water staying on the roof during the monsoons as that is a major thing that starts to affect buildings,” says Rao. Plus, he notes, the simple industrial shape is easy to identify as a public utility. 

Toilet 01 by R+D Studio Advances Sustainable Building Practices

Inside the 4.15-by-3.5-metre Toilet 01 structure, a wall built from 150 plastic silica blocks (that are designed to click to together like Lego) divides the space in half to separate the facilities for women and men; each washroom enclosure has two private cubicles, a shared sink area and internal illumination. For further privacy, the dedicated entrances are located at either end of the structure and feature a series of fixed plastic silica planks set at differing angles and a sturdy tin door.

Toilet 01 by R+D Studio India
Toilet 01 by R+D Studio India

The arrangement of the planks created a folded surface that provided an opportunity to introduce a dose of vibrancy through colour: Taking influence from the traditional Punjabi embroidery technique Phulkari, each end was painted with vertical stripes in tones of red, pink, blue and purple. “We wanted to make it colourful so that it could be identified from a distance,” says Rao. Open louvers along the top of both ends provide natural ventilation. To clearly demarcate the individual entrances, each is adorned with an R+D Studio-designed bold black graphic based on local iconography that depict the face of a woman and a man, respectively. 

In place at the airport since 2022, Toilet 01 has remained virtually maintenance-free, despite the passage of two monsoon seasons. Riding on this success, the team at R+D Studio is in talks with state governments to install Toilet 01 modules in other locations where public washroom facilities are lacking and to spread awareness about the potential of sustainable and recyclable construction practices.

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