Photo courtesy of The Lavatory | Customers wander in The Lavatory Ball Pit.
By Ryan Loo ’21
The Pit is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, or experienced, ever before.
As the sixth room of an immersive and interactive art installation called the Lavatory, The Pit is an underground ball pit that Bill Tonnesen, the owner, advertises as “the mother of all the ball pits with 120,000 glowing balls that drop from the sky and bury you and your friends alive.”
This experience is relatively new, as The Pit was recently constructed and opened around 16 weeks ago.
Located right around the corner from Brophy at N 12th street, The Pit commences its daily ball drop at 7 pm.
However, if you would like to experience the drop, you must meet the requirements first: you must be at least 4 feet tall and bring socks. That’s all there is to it!
Before each drop, Tonnesen makes a point to personally greet each guest as they enter through the door, shaking their hands, asking for their name, and introducing himself.
During Tonnesen’s introductions, he occasionally introduces himself as the owner of the Lavatory, but often omits that he is also the owner of the entirety of The STRIP, the shopping complex in which the Lavatory is being constructed.
As a contractor, Tonnesen owns a design-build company, Tonnesen Inc, that he is using to build this interactive art experience.
However, before its peculiar role as an extravagant underground ball pit, this location was actually zoned for another purpose, Tonnesen said.
Originally, the space was to be used for a new restaurant. However, due to unforeseen complications, this did not happen.
“The restaurant…that I was starting to build this space out for lost their financing,” said Tonnesen, “so I had to do something.”
Tonnesen subsequently stumbled upon the concept of immersive art installations.
Intriguing him, Tonnesen delved deeper into the subject and came to the realization that this was his calling.
“It came to my attention that there are these immersive art installations and I investigated them–it sounded like something that I was born to do,” Tonnesen said.
Having prior experience in the world of art and his own company to build the installation, Tonnesen felt he was well equipped to handle this curious venture.
“I have been preoccupied with art history for about 20 years,” explained Tonnesen.
His love for art history has had an overwhelming influence on this project, as well as his prior works, too.
Before constructing the Lavatory, Tonnesen was additionally an artist.
“I made a bunch of work and had a show, which kind of got me going,” said
Tonnesen, “and ever since, I’ve been in the process of making things… and that’s why this seemed like a particularly good fit.”
With the help of Lizzy Lubitsky, a Philadelphia artist who traveled to Phoenix specifically to work on this project, and Marrioth Ling, a Venezuelan artist, Tonnesen began constructing The Pit from scratch.
Additionally, as The Pit was opening, one of the models for The Pit’s promotional photos, Void Noir, joined their ranks and helps host the events, specifically Dark Mondays, in which guests are recommended to wear all black to match the theme.
This endeavor took 10 months to complete, as they not only designed the interior, but also had to dig the pit out.
“We had to dig [the whole pit] out,” Tonnesen said. “We went through the windows with equipment inside and dug that hole–it was a big job.”
Now that the construction is completed and art installation open, upon entering The Pit, guests are transported into an outlandish gothic rave.
Monochrome statues and photos line the walls, setting an almost eerie mood, as guests walk down steel grate stairs to descend into the foggy pit.
Suspended above is extensive netting, holding the 120,000 balls that drop and fill up to 4 feet of the pit.
As a self-proclaimed control freak, Tonnesen had a major role in the Lavatory’s design, both interior and exterior.
“This wall, that roof, that bag, those pictures, that rubber panel,” Tonnesen starts, “everything you see is an egotistical extension of me.”
Even the fiberglass bench outside of the establishment was hand-picked by Tonnesen, showing that he has had a hand in every aspect of this place’s design.
Another thing that Tonnesen selected, other than the design, was the machine that allows him to tout the Pit as the “cleanest ball pit on the planet.”
The HyGenie ball washer, an industrial cleaning machine also used in Ikea ball pits, are the highest quality ball-cleaning machine that Tonnesen could find.
“It’s the only place I know of that has that quality of equipment,” said Tonnesen.
The HyGenie system uses an hours-long ball-cleaning process to wash, sanitize, and remove damaged balls for an optimal Pit experience.
Furthermore, Tonnesen’s claim for the “cleanest ball pit on the planet” not only applies to cleaning the balls, but extends to daily cleanings of the floor as well.
Though Tonnesen is reluctant to disclose what’s in store for the rest of the Lavatory, he promises, “One thing for sure, we will not open the other rooms unless they are as conceptual and crafted as the Pit.”
Initially planned for a March 1st opening, the rest of the Lavatory is still undergoing final renovations, but Tonnesen says that he is “hoping that it’ll be open in [the first 3 weeks of March].”
To learn more about times, availability, and/or private parties hosted at The Pit, visit www.lavatoryphx.com.