Intelligent retreat

Technology is currently making a beeline for the bathroom, which is helping to enhance aesthetics and strengthen sustainability.
Intelligent retreat
The Inipi sauna’s control unit is shaped like a stone.
By Selina Denman
Sat 24 Oct 2009 04:00 AM

Technology is currently making a beeline for the bathroom, which is helping to enhance aesthetics and strengthen sustainability.

The bathroom’s evolution into an everyday refuge has been well documented. What was once a totally ulitarian space has been converted into a haven of harmony and relaxation – and technology is playing an increasingly important role in creating and controlling the required ambiance.

“Light and colour, for example, which have such an important influence on our sense of wellbeing, used to be an afterthought in the bathroom,” noted Toni El Kadi, UAE branch manager, Duravit Middle East. “Today, the latest lighting and electronic technology makes it possible to create a changing light experience,” he added.

“The room can be bathed in light and colour, providing the ideal setting for spa products such as whirl tubs, multi-functional showers, pool systems, saunas, atmospheric light and spa equipment for bath tubs and pools, such as air nozzles, jet nozzles or rotating back and foot-massage nozzles.” Multi-functionality

Technology is making its way into the bathroom under number of guises – in the form of in-wall televisions, advanced audio systems and lighting controls, and in the less obvious forms of water-saving flush systems and aerated shower sprays. Technology has essentially been responsible for transforming the simple faucet into a master of water conservation and the average bath into an oasis of wellness.

Laufen’s Mimo series of bath tubs, for example, takes the simple tub and converts it into a bespoke spa – by adding coloured LEDs and a whirlpool system, noted Ivan Zupanovic, international sales and marketing manager, Laufen.

“Instead of a conventional touch panel, Laufen and its partners have developed an innovative touch-sensitive control for the whirlsystem: the control symbols are simply lasered into the tub rim. This is a stylish, absolutely hygienic and scratch-resistant solution that can be cleaned easily and in no way detracts from the beautiful, curvaceous contours of the bath tub,” he continued.

But, while enhanced comfort and aesthetics are obvious drivers in the uptake of technology in the bathroom, it is essential that practicality doesn’t fall to the wayside. “We feel that more than ever, aesthetics and technology will be inextricably linked,” El Kadi said. “But design should never be an excuse for lack of function. Every product has to be easy to assemble and of real practical value. We generally take a step back from products that are pure ‘monuments’.”

In practice

To this effect, Duravit has launched a number of attractive but ‘intelligent’ products this year. The Inipi sauna, for example, which can fit two people but requires as little room as 235cm x 117cm, was designed by the Eoos group. “They have transformed the sweat cabin into a modern designer sauna which, thanks to judiciously concealed technology, presents itself in an exceptionally clean and transparent design,” said El Kadi.

The basis is a wooden frame that is glazed at the front and back. “All units are mounted on a pull-out carrier that is fully concealed behind a wooden panel. As a result, the control system, heater with ventilation unit and evaporator are always accessible but never in view.

“All that is visible is a small wooden flap on the front that opens to reveal a second ‘stone’, which is actually a firmly mounted operating element. This stone also houses an AUX connection and features a shelf for relevant devices.”

Duravit has also launched a series of oversized tubs or ‘pools’ that include 40 nozzles and offer features ranging from a power massage to bubbling bath. Hidden within the pools is a powerful three-fold regeneration system.

“The heart of the installation is its Emotion system, which features 24 Durapearl nozzles built into the tub’s floor. These multi-functional nozzles produce both large air bubbles and a fine gentle massaging water jet. The system can be switched from bubbles to water jet by means of the waterproof remote control or operating panel to suit and enhance the mood,” El Kadi detailed.

Back to basics

Slightly less glamorous but equally advanced are Duravit’s Architec and McDry urinals. The Frank Huster-designed Architec has an electronic control system which combines innovative sensor technology with intelligent flushing. These can recognise changes in the siphon and will then automatically trigger a flushing operation, based on three different flushing programmes.“With the McDry urinal, Duravit proves that water can be done away with altogether,” said El Kadi. “The way McDry works is brilliantly simple. The ceramic siphon of the urinal is filled with the special McDry Blue sealing liquid, especially developed by Duravit, a non water-soluble substance with a specific gravity lighter than that of urine.”

Kohler has also developed a waterless urinal and is concentrating on low-flow toilets and flushing technology, having developed a number of systems that use a mere 5l per flush. Some models, such as its Kohler Highline and Wellworth Pressure Lite models use as little as 4l. “Flushing toilets accounts for approximately 25% of a home’s water usage, so replacing one toilet can save a lot of water,” commented Mohammed Nada, regional marketing manager, Kohler.

Faucets are another hot-spot of water wastage so Kohler has launched its Insight Technology for wall-mount and desk-mount faucets, which analyses and logs feedback from its environment upon intital installation.

“Insight technology is available on several of Kohler’s faucet lines, with a factory-installed 0.5 gallon-per-minute aerator for maximum water conservation,” Nada explained.

Laufen, meanwhile, has launched water-saving faucets fitted with the Ecototal cartridge, as well as numerous toilets that incorporate a dual volume flush system that uses 4.5l or 3l.

Whether in saunas, taps, urinals, shower heads or toilets, technology more often than not has to serve the two-pronged purpose of enhacing aesthetics while supporting sustainability. “We need to continue to work very intensively on a change in consciousness, on ways of perceiving the bathroom and water in a new way,” highlighted brand manager of Hansgrohe’s ‘designer’ brand, Axor, Philippe Grohe. “Alongside our innovative strength in technology, top architects and designers are helping us to shape new solutions for the bathroom.”

Like its industry peers, Hansgrohe’s greatest challenge is creating mixers and shower heads that use water more intelligently, but do not sacrifice on design or showering pleasure.

“Combining Hansgrohe EcoSmart and AirPower technology saves water by means of a dynamic flow restrictor, and the user is treated to an entirely new sensual shower experience compared with conventional shower sprays,” Grohe explained.

In keeping with a clear, industry-wide trend, Villeroy & Boch is taking concentrated steps to ensure that its products facilitate a reducation in water consumption. “In the future, all washbasin tap fittings from Villeroy & Boch will be fitted with an air bubbler which will reduce water consumption by an average of 25%.

“And even more, within the next three years we’ll reduce the average water consumption of all taps sold by 30%, without losing any comfort,” said Thorsten Bies, regional manager, Villeroy & Boch Middle East – bathroom and wellness division.

Looking forward, technology will continue to make itself at home in the bathroom, and will continue to be fine-tuned to strike the perfect balance between sustainability, functionality, comfort and aesthetics.

Trendspotting: Tips from the experts

1. “In terms of design we have just experienced a long phase of rectangular designs. However, the design scope is now expanding and, in addition to the rectangular ranges, we now have products whose clean geometry is moving towards gently curved designs. This enables a softer, more feminine bathroom design.” Toni El Kadi, Duravit

2. “There will be many solutions that help to create a more individual, more sensual and even more comfortable bathroom experience – new materials, touch-free features, electronic devices, light and sound will invade the bathroom. ” Ivan Zupanovic, Laufen

3. “We need to continue to work very intensively on a change in consciousness, on ways of perceiving the bathroom and water in a new way. Alongside our innovative strength in technology, top architects and designers are helping us to shape new solutions for the bathroom.” Philippe Grohe, Axor

4. “The design of contemporary bathrooms is now more and more oriented towards a homely ambience. What used to be a separate wet room now opens up towards the bedroom and becomes more of an open living space. Bathroom and bedroom are being designed as one architectural unit and combined into a harmonious whole. In practice this means furniture elements in elegant wood shades, washbasin units with furniture veneers, the shower basin clad in a matching design, and the bathtub itself becoming an item of furniture.” Toni El Kadi, Duravit

5. “Within the next three years we’ll reduce the average water consumption of all taps sold by 30%, without losing out on any comfort.” Thorsten Bies, Villeroy & Boch.

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