“The best MoA ever, especially the toilets.”

Over 5000 people have already visited the exhibition at Jätkäsaari, 1500 of them on the opening night. Curiously, one of the most talked-about things in the whole building is… the toilets. The loo, the john, the bog, the WC. Apparently people have been sidling up and asking if they can buy them. Clearly this requires further investigation.

When the Masters moved in, they knew they’d have to deal with no toilets, and no running water. “No problem,” they said, “let’s use it to prototype something we’re already working on.” There is currently a project between Aalto and Unicef to improve sanitation in poor areas (their very enlightening blog is here). The taps work on a sensor to save water, which has to be brought in jugs. Any runoff goes to a garden (!) to avoid creating pools where mosquitoes can breed. The toilets can even tweet their status. Seriously. Go ahead, follow a toilet on Twitter.

Biolan has provided the compost material for the toilets. If you’ve been to a Finnish cottage, you’ve seen a compost outhouse before. If you haven’t, think of it as an outhouse without the smell. Every person who uses the toilet adds a wee layer of woody compost chips down into the bog, and these absorb and start to break down the human waste.

Think that’s weird? Try the soap. It was developed by a Swedish-speaking group of Aalto students in conjunction with Täffä, a student restaurant. They use grease left over from food to create hand soap for these toilets.

When MoA decided to take the building in Jätkäsaari for their exhibition, it was a considerable logistical risk. They knew thousands of people would visit this event – but that also makes it a great opportunity for some very heavy testing of this toilet system. Aalto and Unicef hope to implement them in Uganda, where sanitation is an issue in keeping students (particularly girls) in school. When they’re installed there, you won’t be able to just hop in a taxi and drive downtown for a part, or expect that there are thirty people around who can spot and fix any problems. So far, it seems this experiment has exceeded expectations, and there are even festival organisers in Finland who have been talking about using these loos.

Also, props are due to the MoA tutors (POIAT) who helped drive this work and see it to completion. Next time I visit MoA, I’ll be sure to drink three cups of coffee beforehand.