Ichihara, Japan

Forty miles southeast of Tokyo, Sou Fujimoto's transparent outhouse beside a railroad station provides visitors with a restroom–and a view–of their own.

Photo by Iwan Baan

A single glass-encased stall in the middle of a meadow, Sou Fujimoto's new public toilet is a loo with a view. Located in Ichihara, Japan, a city of 279,000, the tiny restroom is ringed by an oval fence that shields patrons without severing visual ties to the surrounding landscape: low mountains and blossoming cherry trees that draw tourists from near and far. Adjacent to the local railroad station, Fujimoto's facility caters to visitors who arrive by train and have got to go.

The project began with a direct commission from Ichihara's municipal government. Fujimoto's task was to update the modest wooden huts enclosing the washrooms at the unmanned depot. Typically, Japanese public toilets are closed and sequestered, yet the designer wanted to engage the scenic setting. “Initially, I thought we would just open the building to the sky,” says Fujimoto. “But during design we realized that it would be even more fantastic to open it entirely.”

With that goal in mind, the architect created two separate stalls: one of wood topped with clear polycarbonate and the other of glass capped with steel plate. Standing near the station, the opaque, 26-square-foot stall primarily for men is also handicapped-accessible, while the transparent 14-square-foot stall a short distance from the depot is for women.

Latched on the inside, the entrance to the women's toilet is a simple, steel gate set into the fence, a 7-foot-high barrier made of embedded wooden piles stapled together on top and sealed with silicone in between. The fence not only shields the stall's transparency, it also corrals an idyllic 2,153-square-foot untamed field that users must traverse to get to the toilet. Planted by Fujimoto and punctuated by a few trees, the greenery contrasts startlingly with the stall itself: defined by a welded steel frame and glass walls, it is barely big enough for a toilet, a sink, and a tree-shaped toilet paper holder. Both wildly exposed and comfortably enclosed, Fujimoto's facility is surely among the world's smallest and most expansive public restrooms at the same time.