A History Of Human Civilization, As Told With Toilets

The 14th International Architecture Exhibition, entitled Fundamentals, has opened in Venice. True to its theme, an entire gallery in the Giardini's central pavilion has been turned into a "throne room" devoted to one fundamental invention that has spanned time and cultures for millennia: the toilet.

"No architectural treatise declares the toilet as the primordial element of architecture, but it might be the ultimate one," says Rem Koolhaas, the controversial Dutch architect who directed the exhibit.

A History Of Human Civilization, As Told With Toilets

According to Architizer's Janelle Zara, the gallery traces our path to modernization via a stone latrine from ancient Rome (above), to the ornate splendor of an 1895 Austrian Ditmar ceramic urinal, on through to Switzerland's Blue Diversion Toilet (left), which contains a compact recovery system that treats and recycles reusable water on-site. (In 2011, it won the Bill and Melinda Gates "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.")

"Truly, there's no piece of architecture you've even been closer to," adds Zara. "Its design [has] conformed to ever-changing social constructs — the ways that we have considered personal hygiene, privacy, the universal right to sanitation and our own bodily functions."

See more photos from the exhibit at Architizer.