“Japanese products are at a different level”

AN INTERVIEW WITH TOTO BRAND AMBASSADOR DAVID MARQUARDT, MACH ARCHITEKTUR

David Marquardt is specialised in luxury brands and international retail. After completing his degree at the renowned Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, he worked for leading architects and the in-house architecture department at Swiss luxury shoe brand Bally for several years. In 2000, he founded MACH Architektur in Zürich with Jan Fischer. In 2019, David Marquardt was named TOTO Brand Ambassador. Photo: MACH Architektur

Design by David Marquardt, MACH Architektur: A remodelling project in Paris. Here, a solid piece of marble is used to create a contrast with the vintage building. The focal point of the room is a large bathtub for relaxation and regeneration, inspired by the idea of the traditional onsen – a hot spring where people go to relax. The onsen plays an important role in Japanese bathing culture. Photo: MACH Architektur/TOTO

Everything has its size and dimensions. David Marquardt finds this principle to be typically Japanese. Unlike many other floor plans in Japan, this one is very spacious – but the dimensions of the TOTO washbasins still fit perfectly here. Photo: MACH Architektur/TOTO

Design by David Marquardt, MACH Architektur: A hotel room. The indoors and outdoors merge together, allowing people to experience nature in the room. Many spaces in Japan featuring exclusive, high-quality architecture follow this same design principle. David Marquart incorporated this idea into his designs and created a very warm, natural and comforting ambience with TOTO products – especially the curved, organic bathtub. Photo: MACH Architektur/TOTO

TOTO and David Marquardt, MACH Architektur Zürich, have a special relationship spanning a decade: In 2009, the Swiss architect designed the company’s first ISH trade show booth – followed by two additional ones in the coming years – along with TOTO’s London showroom in 2010 and the suites of London’s May Fair Hotel in 2012. He was named Brand Ambassador in 2019. David Marquardt has a keen sense of Japanese minimalism, is fascinated by technology, and combines the two beautifully – something few other designers do well.

 

How did you encounter TOTO for the first time?

David Marquardt: In Japan. I was there for work in 2000. My first encounter with TOTO was with one of the company’s products –a washbasin that was installed on a cistern to save space. The water that flowed out of the sink was then used to flush the toilet. I thought this was an incredibly inspiring and innovative idea, and it also worked really well. I’ve only seen such pragmatic, compact solutions in Japan, which is where I heard of TOTO for the first time. I also remember that the name immediately made an impression on me: TOTO sounded so light and easy, so friendly. And people can pronounce it in every language. I soon established a contact within the company.

 

When TOTO celebrated its European debut at ISH 2009, you were directly involved as the designer of the company’s trade show booth. What was it like to support TOTO at such a prominent event?

David Marquardt: It was really surprising to see the strong public presence TOTO has in Japan. Before I really got started on the project, I visited the various production facilities to get an idea of what the ceramic and hardware manufacturing processes was like. I also noticed that this very large company worked in a very personal way – with a very personal connection to its customers, and a strong commitment to the idea of excellent service. All of the employees dedicate their heart and soul to their work, and this is also expected to a certain extent from the service providers who collaborate with TOTO. Initially, there were some issues with communication, but this was because I needed to learn a bit more about Japanese company culture. For example, we Europeans are used to getting responses more quickly, especially when we send something to a team or a project manager. It’s also important for European service providers to first earn their trust. But if you can do this successfully, the collaboration is just fantastic.

 

You’ve designed a lot of projects for TOTO ever since. What has that been like?

David Marquardt: TOTO has great respect for the architects they work with, which has made working with them a very positive experience from the outset. Over the years, it has been a very profound process getting to understand every aspect of the company. I designed the trade show booths for ISH in 2009, 2011 and 2013, TOTO’s London showroom in 2010, and the suites at the May Fair Hotel two years later. At the beginning, I underestimated the long meetings and language barriers – it’s not that easy to ensure that everyone clearly understands each other. Over the years of collaboration, I’ve managed to get through to the heart of TOTO. Now, I understand how it beats. I’ve started identifying myself with TOTO.

In essence, TOTO is a manufacturer of sanitary products – but they don’t limit themselves to just making beautifully designed products. Functionality is far more important for TOTO. Key issues for TOTO include what value users can experience, how the everyday items in the bathroom can truly enrich people’s lives. TOTO wants to create places of well-being with their products. In turn, well-being emerges from a combination of many factors – hygiene, beautiful design, ease of use, comfort, reliability and sustainability.

 

Japanese bathing culture – this idea always resonates with TOTO. What does Japanese bathing culture mean to you?

David Marquardt: That the process of bathing or the time spent in the bath means more than just washing up – instead, the bathroom is truly a place of relaxation and well-being, in a rather minimalistic environment. In earlier times, the hot bath, which is an essential part of Japanese bathing culture, provided an opportunity to generate internal heat and live more comfortably in unheated homes. When bathing in an onsen*, I could imagine that I would be absorbing nature’s energy – and this is a typically Japanese idea. There are several of these very hot natural springs in Japan where people have bathed for years, and continue to do so today. In Japan, people shower before entering the bath. This ritual is very foreign to Europeans in our everyday lives. It reflects the elevated standards of hygiene that the Japanese share.

 

Is there something specific about TOTO that you could consider typically Japanese? Or authentic?

David Marquardt: As an architect, I notice the respectful use of space. Everything has its size and dimensions. The floor plans are very small – yet, it’s possible to design and arrange furnishings to give everything its space and purpose. In Japan, even cultivated things that are constructed or artificially created seem natural. References to nature are ubiquitous in Japanese architecture.

In terms of what’s authentic, there is something that I only associate with Japan and especially TOTO. It’s this intention to further improve and perfect things in every respect. As a European, I’m used to wanting to enhance the design of an object, for example. When it comes to design, we Europeans have very high aesthetic standards. This could be separated from the purpose or functionality of a product. This doesn’t happen in Japan. Design is never the overarching aspect. Instead, development more frequently focuses on the issue of comfort and user experience. I’ve been using WASHLET™ in my home for some time now – and, as a Brand Ambassador, I can simply say that the high quality of this product reveals itself with its daily use. I’d say that Japanese products like WASHLET™ are at a different level.

*Onsen is the Japanese term for a hot spring. Since all of Japan is located in a region full of volcanic activity, hot springs are located throughout the entire country. The onsen plays an important role in Japanese culture and is primarily used for relaxation purposes.