November 9, 2007
‘Mr. Toilet’ Builds Commode-Shaped House
By BURT HERMAN
SUWON, South Korea - Sim Jae-duck has made his political career as South Korea's Mr. Toilet by beautifying public restrooms. Now he's got a home befitting his title: a toilet-shaped domicile complete with the latest in lavatory luxury.
Sim is building the two-story house set to be finished Sunday to commemorate the inaugural meeting later this month of the World Toilet Association. The group, supported by the South Korean government, aims no less than to launch a "toilet revolution," by getting people to open their bathroom doors for the sake of improving worldwide hygiene.
Representatives from 60 countries will gather in Seoul to spur the creation of national toilet associations of their own and spread the word about hygiene. Organizers argue the issue deserves greater attention and cite U.N. figures that some 2.5 billion people live without proper sanitation or water supplies.
"The toilet revolution should start with talking about toilet issues freely," said Song Young-kwon, head of the organizing committee for the five-day conference that opens Nov. 21.
The Seoul conference will be accompanied by a toilet expo featuring exhibits to excite the public about the cause: including a "Hansel and Gretel" bathroom made from cookies and candy that gives presents to children when they flush, and a "toilet gallery cafe" where people can sit on colorful commodes while drinking tea.
Sim, a lawmaker in the National Assembly, hopes his house in his hometown Suwon, some 30 miles south of Seoul, will help bring attention to the cause and is seeking a guest to pay $50,000 to stay one night with the proceeds to benefit the association that hopes to work with developing nations to build more and better toilets.
Several candidates have already expressed interest, but Sim said he would choose someone who can appropriately represent his cause - with the proceeds set to fund his foundation's work. Visitors just wanting a glimpse inside the bowl will be charged a $1 donation.
"Toilets stand central to people's lives," Sim said as workers scurried to put the finishing touches on the home - including installing the final toilet inside.
The toilet theme is central to the house named Haewoojae, or a "place to solve one's worries," shaped like a 24 1/2-foot-tall toilet bowl. Thinking of how to push forward his cause of having better hygiene and sanitation, Sim tore down his former home to build the $1.1 million building.
In case they had any doubt about who would choose to live here, a plaque inscribed "Mr. Toilet's House" greets visitors. As a former mayor of Suwon, Sim spearheaded a campaign to beautify the city's restrooms - part of a national push to spruce up the country's facilities for hosting events such as the 1988 Summer Olympics and 2002 World Cup.
A showpiece bathroom at the center of the 4,520-square-foot house is on display through a floor-to-ceiling window made of glass that turns opaque at the touch of a button. When guests enter to do their business, a motion sensor activates classical music.
The bathroom emerges into a spacious living room featuring a grand staircase and lined by windows curving around the rounded facade of the building.
The home has four bathrooms that include a whirlpool bathtub, urinals and large glass showers.
Occupants gain access to the roof balcony around the rim of the "bowl" by climbing up stairs through what would be a toilet drain - which is equipped to collect rain for some functions to conserve drinking water. The home is encased in smooth, white-painted steel that appears similar to the ceramics used to make toilets.