Getting all the best ideas in the bathroom

8 May 2007

Over the past seven years, Sydney researchers led by Paul Pholeros and Col James have visited more than 4600 Indigenous Australian households across urban and regional Australia looking for ways to improve people's living conditions.

Of the homes they have seen, only 33 per cent had a working shower, 26 per cent had laundry facilities and 56 per cent had a working toilet.

"Aside from food and shelter, there are three key areas to our health: that we wash once a day, that we are able to wash our clothes, and that we can remove waste. The people aren't the problem, it's the design and maintenance of the equipment," says Professor Pholeros from the Faculty of Architecture.

As a result of their research, Professor Pholeros and Mr James have developed a prototype home clinic and wash room for the indigenous community in Redfern.The prototypewill be unveiled this coming Monday at the University of Sydney, and it is to be incorporated into 62 proposed new dwellings at The Block in Redfern.

Details of the room's design arose from extensive research and workshops with health professionals, architects and Aboriginal leaders, with special attention given to disabled access. The room features a combined toilet and hobless shower, a medicine cabinet, a ceramic tub and bench with access from the inside and the outside, a wheelchair and a laundry trolley, and a combined washing and drying machine.

"Aboriginal people experience disability at an earlier rate than non-Aboriginal people because of endemic poor health. We don't want architectural disablement," said Dr Catherine Bridge, senior lecturer in the Discipline of Occupational Therapy at the University, and a consultant in the design process.

"Anything we can do to improve resources is fundamental to people's quality of life and to the community," she said. "The sort of thinking that went into this wash room is needed nationally," added Professor Pholeros.

The wash room includes an 'eco-metre' which measures the water, electricity and gas output, and translates that use into a monetary amount and carbon dioxide outputs. Hugh Snelgrove, a third year architecture student, and Gabriel Ulacco, an architecture graduate, spent six weeks sourcing materials, including the eco-metre, and building the prototype.

"Col gave us a 5cm by 5cm thumbnail sketch. Gabriel brought it to scale by generating a computerised visualisation, after which we could assess what we needed," explained Hugh.

Contact: Kath Kenny

Phone: 02 9351 2261