Answering the (close) call of nature
There are plenty of urinals in the men's toilet in the shopping mall of a luxury development in Ho Man Tin - but there's no way they could all be used at the same time.
The eight porcelain fittings in the ground-floor mall of Celestial Heights are so close together that there's simply not enough room.
One expert even said the new toilet is so cramped it could prove 'psychologically uncomfortable'.
The reason for the tight squeeze is that the size of the U-shaped urinal area is about half that was specified in the building plans.
The urinals also lack the 'modesty boards' that, according to the plans, are supposed to separate them.
Plans for the arcade in the joint development by property giants Cheung Kong and Nam Fung Group call for the urinals to be set in an area measuring 2.1 metres by 2.4 metres - about 5 square metres.
But the area in the finished toilet measures just 2.5 square metres.
Dr Michael Siu Kin-wai, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Toilet Association, said the developer apparently did not care about the feelings of the users of the cramped toilet, which resembled some still found in the railway stations of backward regions.
'The urinals are too close to each other and people using them will be shoulder to shoulder.
'This will make them embarrassed and even psychologically uncomfortable,' said Siu, an ergonomics expert at the Polytechnic University school of design.
Vincent Ho Kui-yip, chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors' building surveying division, said the layout was neither reasonable nor practical.
'Having a sufficient number of urinals does not really mean they have fulfilled the legal requirements, since these urinals cannot deliver their intended function,' he said.
The laws set out the minimum number of toilet facilities - water closets, urinals and basins -based on the maximum number of people allowed in premises such as malls or cinemas.
Neither Cheung Kong subsidiary Goodwell Property Management, which manages the mall, nor architects LWK & Partners had responded by last night to inquiries filed last week.
The eight urinals at Celestial Heights are arranged with three on each opposite wall and two on the wall at the end.
A mere 16.5cm separates each of the urinals on the sides, but the shortest distance between the two urinals in the right angles at the corners is about 10cm.
The distance between the urinals on opposite walls is just 58cm, meaning men's backs will be touching when they use them. Those at the end cannot be used without blocking access to those on either side.
The layout goes against recommendations laid out in the guide to better public toilet design and maintenance published by the Restroom Association Singapore in 2002. It suggests each urinal should be at least 30cm apart and those at right angles even further apart.
The 92,000 sq ft mall has two public toilets with a total of 15 urinals - three more than required by law for such a mall.
An inspection of the women's toilet found that the size of cubicles is acceptable and their number meets the legal requirement.
Ho, of the surveyors' institute, suggested the number of urinals be reduced to six.
But he believes the developer may be reluctant to do so because it would reduce the flexibility to change the use of nearby shops from, for example, a restaurant which requires a toilet to a boutique which does not.
He said the size of the area might have been reduced by thick walls.
Building laws, Ho said, did not exempt mall toilets from the gross floor space calculations that govern the size and density of a development. For this reason, developers tended to make them as small as possible.
Still, he does not support the idea of regulating the size of toilet facilities because it would reduce the flexibility for such provisions.
He also said that in most cases there were no safety issues.
The gap between the urinals along the sides of the toilet area in the Celestial Heights mall. The gap between the urinals in the corners is 10cm