About the WC | Elías Cueto

The Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596), Sir John Harington
The Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596), Sir John Harington

Politics about the WC.

Probably the excellent seat, the most universal support and the one that of stranger and mixed up form we share throughout the day with other persons: the throne, the WC. This name comes from the acrónimo Englishman for “water close”and refers to the hydraulic closing, the mechanism of sifonamiento by means of which the pipe that connects our housing with the sewage is still had closed by the step of smells and unhealthy agents of simple, automatic and infallible form.

From the first lavatories carved in stone it does more than 4.000 years in Gnossos up to the incorporation of the electronics to improve our experience on the watercloset, the design, development and popularization (the lavatory is something obligatory for more than 200 years), they constitute a history marked of notable episodes.

The success of the invention and the speed with which it became popular is not strange. The WC solves of seemingly definitive form a problem of health and hygiene public. By means of the operation of his simple mechanism, the lavatory removes our residues for major own comfort and of our congeners.


Is it a question of a merely functional achievement? Does lavatory imply a way of understanding the world?

Letrinas Comunales en Ostia | Fuente: Wikipedia
Communal letrienes en Ostia | Source: Wikipedia.org

Thanks to this new device called WC, in the 18th century we will be able to make disappear for the first time and of almost magic form that part of we with which already we do not identify. It is not of surprising that Slavoj Žižek sees in the form and functioning of the lavatory a metaphor of the form in which every company gets away itself from his “quoits”.

Really the WC liberates us of our shit, but he contributes also to the most important evolution of the space in which we live. The watercloset operates as a machine higienizadora of the space. It is capable of unifying plots of our existence traditionally separated from radical form. Thanks to the hydraulic closing the new lavatories are not unhealthy being possible to domesticate them, that is to say, to include them in the housings of those who till then were clearly segregated when not directly excluded.

It is thanks to the WC and his vast network of sewer that the public space dignifies staying behind the times of “water goes” and the filthy alleys in which the grey was getting better. The lavatory definitively, there makes possible a condition of clarity and cleanliness universal that prompt will find his aesthetic expression. In the domestic thing it will be the luminous and diaphanous space. In urban the opening of road and the unpublished domesticity of the public space. In both cases a Foucault´s triumphs I spread “in order of inspection”.

From a point of view of the ethics of the autoexigency, of the morality of the effort, the possibility of tidiness that the WC makes possible in the space is a mandate. If it is possible to get rid of the marrones of discreet and definitive form, it is forced to do it that way. There begins this way a career of our interiors (and interiorities) towards the immaculate thing, a trend that is so formal as moral, so aesthetic as an ethics.

The form turns out to be obscenely violent in that Le Corbusier projected (¡ and it published!) some of his domestic interiors doing uninhibited apology of the nudity and cleanliness of the spaces of bathroom: As diaphanous spaces that appear under an impenitent zenithal direct light of the Sun, without possibility if it wants of a punctual dimness of someone in his corners. Any observation of intimacy, discretion or simple shade is eliminated in favour of an extent and luminosity hygienists whose intimate inconvenience Tanizaki describes with so many subtlety in “Praise of the shade”.

Villa Savoye en Poissy, France, Le Corbusier
Villa Savoye in Poissy, France, Le Corbusier

In the WC the aesthetics of the inspection are imposed. The sanitary ones appear as icons of modernity, in an unquestioned association of cleanliness and health, formal and moral.

Shit and sustainability: taboo and totem.

White, of porcelain and of rounded forms, this one is the hegemonic aspect of the WC from his first construction. Few pieces are so invariable in his form and aspect as this seat. It had wanted to illustrate these lines with designs of interest but any effort of creativity and originality in his design turns out to be a convict and rapidly it evolves towards the ridiculous one. Any manipulation or customization of the aspect of the lavatory forces the spectator of a specially direct way.

There turns out to be paradoxical the categorical of the form of the váter, the untouchable of his design and material, seemingly protected from any change, as if the WC was a taboo of the design and the microcompany of the design and the designers had reminded a moratorium of originality I half-close to the “throne”.

W+W de Roca
W+W by Roca

I appeal to the patience and interest of the reader to comment on the last revolution in WCs’s design: the W+W by Roca and his predecessor, of minor visual impact but identical philosophy, the Profile 5 by Caroma was already of manufacture. In both cases it is a question of a device that it unifies wash basin and watercloset. It is a question of reducing the water consumption using the gray waters of the wash basin as provision of the cistern of the lavatory, a solution to which for urgent problems of economy many came before across the bricolage.

As previous advances as for plumbing and reparation, the simplicity of the exposition is far from being a disadvantage and beside guaranteeing the good functioning of the mechanism lends to moral equivalents on which well we had liked to have listened to speak to Slavoj Žižek.


The provocation of the elaborated one (and costly) rock design resides in the fact that there treats itself a piece of design that proposes a new form for the WC. A change in the form of the WC only is presentable if very powerful arguments support it. It me takes pleasure specially to speculate on the possibility that the latter transformation of this taboo of the design that is the lavatory resides in a still major level of the traditional functional and moral higienismo so typically Central European that seems to support all the WCs:

The Sustainability.

In effect, if the WC is a taboo of the design, the sustainability is a totem of the same discipline. In the W+W the formal innovation seeks protection in the reduction in the water consumption. And it is thanks to the exorbitant character of the concept sustainability that turns out to be tolerable WC’s formal manipulation that of another form would be rapidly an insult.

Sustainability definitively, a materialization of possibilities that, precisely for being possible and for the most autodemanding morality, develops immediately into a mandate …

Elías Cueto, architect
Santiago de Compostela, march 2012
Published in Nº 313 [sillas…]

Elías Cueto
Elías Cueto Author

Es arquitecto técnico superior de urbanismo por la EGAP, doctor en historia de la arquitectura por la ETSAC y especialista en diseño de mobiliario por THK (Alemania. En 2015 recibió el V Premio Domingo Fontán de investigación histórica y es autor de dos monografías sobre historia moderna y diseño. Ha trabajado como diseñador para diferentes firmas y ha colaborados con dos Premios Nacionales de Arquitectura. Actualmente colabora con la industria de la madera en el ámbito del desarrollo de productos y la mejora e industrialización de procesos.

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