Cultural change in the bathroom:
Designer Christoph Behling on Geberit AquaClean
Nowadays the word “design” is on everyone's lips. But what truly distinguishes great design from that which is merely good? “Good” is often merely fashionable, and therefore short-lived. For Christoph Behling, a designer of luxury watches, solar-powered boats and Geberit products, “good” is not enough. A designer product has to be perfect. It must be long-lasting and continue to please for as long as it continues to function.
Christoph Behling on
… cleaning with water
… the advantages of the shower toilet
… the features of the Geberit AquaClean Mera
Interview with Christoph Behling
Mr Behling, what do you consider to be a designer’s role?
My job is to design products so that they continue to amaze people for an entire lifetime. It’s important to find a balance between new and familiar trends. If I don’t succeed, I have done a bad job and failed as a designer. At the same time, I don’t see myself as a designer who absolutely has to achieve his vision without compromise, but rather as an integral part of the entire development process. It’s not about just putting my personal signature on things. Rather, I try to work out and build on what is in their DNA. That’s why it’s so important for me to work closely with my clients.
As lead designer at TAG Heuer, you design luxury watches. But one of your long-term clients is Geberit, a bathroom manufacturer. How does that fit together?
I design high-quality Swiss watches for TAG Heuer and high-quality Swiss toilets for Geberit. The connection lies in striving for perfection, which is an important philosophy in Switzerland. Producing a substandard product is considered almost as bad as treason!
What is it like working with Geberit?
Geberit is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of sanitary ware. Yet, I have always experienced this company to be deeply humble. Perfection, durability, uncompromising quality and innovation are core Geberit values. Geberit still guarantees at least 20 years of full spare parts availability. Show me another company that offers that nowadays. This company is a partner who is obsessed with details – which is an obsession that I can easily identify with. Geberit develops durable product concepts which do not depend on constantly producing new product generations. In other words, designing for Geberit doesn’t mean following the latest short-lived fads. And many products are truly fantastic from an ecological point of view.
You have also explicitly expressed your commitment to sustainable products. But as a designer you should always design new products. How does this claim affect your design process?
That means that, as a designer, I want to get the best out of a product to meet these quality and sustainability requirements. Design must never be trendy – it must be timeless. Our problem today is that most products are thrown away because consumers think they look outdated after a short period of time. But it would be a crime to design toilets that are already out of fashion after five years and have to be torn out of the wall just because people don’t like them any more.
The AquaClean Mera shower toilet is one of the latest products that you designed for Geberit. How important is this product for you?
Ten years ago, I was renovating my house in London and wanted to install a shower toilet. But my wife was completely against it because she thought it was hideous. The problem with shower toilets in the past was that they worked great, but they all looked like medical devices. And then, when Geberit asked me five years ago to design not just a shower toilet but in fact “the best toilet in the world”, I was thrilled.
In other words, you’re convinced of the advantages of cleaning with water?
Cleaning with water is better in every respect. Cleaning with paper is a stupid idea. After all, I don’t clean my body with paper after a mountain bike ride. Water is much more pleasant, sustainable and hygienic. I am convinced that anyone who tries out the shower toilet for a few weeks will not want to part with it. Because they simply wouldn’t feel clean – just like they wouldn’t leave the house in the morning without having a shower.
The shower toilet is really popular in Asia. Do you think they will catch on on the European market as well?
Almost all of the best hotels that I know in London have installed shower toilets in their hotel rooms over the last three years. This is currently happening across the whole of Europe to welcome Asian travellers who are expecting the same level of hygiene as they have at home. Japanese airlines now even feature shower toilets in their planes. In the next five years, the shower toilet will form part of the standard amenities for most five-star hotels. Personally, I think it’s no longer a question of “if” 50 percent of all European households will have shower toilets, but rather a question of “when”. In my opinion, we will reach this figure in less than 20 years.
What is special about the shower toilet that you designed for Geberit?
Mera is a technical masterpiece, and for me it is the best toilet in the world. We designed the smallest possible volume and released it from the wall with a chrome cover. I wanted Mera to appear as a “floating” and lightweight element in the room. We focused on developing a design with which you can experience the technology behind it – but not see it.
And how is the Geberit AquaClean Mera different from other shower toilets?
For over four years, we worked together with around 30 engineers from various Geberit departments to develop the Mera. The end result is a quiet, beautiful toilet, which is better than all the others in almost every respect. There is currently no other shower toilet on the market that flushes as quietly and as efficiently as the Mera. The spray nozzle is gentle yet thorough. This would obviously also be the case if you used a lot of water, but the Mera cleans thoroughly and is environmentally-friendly at the same time due its low water consumption. The odour extraction unit works perfectly, and thanks to the gentle orientation light, you don’t have to switch on the light during the night. The shower toilet can be easily adjusted with a great little remote control. The list of outstanding advantages is never-ending.
What trends do you think are shaping the future of bathroom designs?
The bathroom is the room in the house that will change the most over the next few years. Above all, the bathroom has a lot of catching up to do in terms of technical innovations. New products have constantly been developed for the kitchen, for example. Dishwashers, microwaves and induction cookers have made our chores and everyday lives much easier. It’s shocking that there have been so few new patents for the bathroom to date. I am certain that products such as Geberit AquaClean shower toilets can trigger developments and new trends in this respect. After all, innovative functions such as the anal shower, warm air dryer, odour extraction unit and WC seat heating make our daily hygiene routine easier. And the Mera toilet has the potential to bring about a cultural change in the bathroom!