Featured Stories

We are participating in the conversation about equitable and
resilient public health and sanitation systems.

It's high time for 21st century design.

Why are we still are building public restroom facilities designed for mid 20th century families rather than for the dynamic twenty-first century global society in which we now live?    A rethink of public restroom design would solve the dilemma that Lisa A. Fram outlines in  Men? Women? Parents Face Public Bathroom Dilemma: How old is too old to use an opposite-sex bathroom? Parents face public bathroom angst (Appearing under various titles her AP piece was picked up by media outlets across the country, including today’s Oregonian).
Recent changes in building and plumbing codes requiring family/unisex restrooms in larger establishments are commendable but also costly.  Do we really need three separate facilities for men, women, and families?
All of us, including children and adults in the company of opposite-sex caregivers, certainly deserve protection from inappropriate contact with strangers in men’s or women’s “gang toilets”.
As the PHLUSH Public Restroom Design Principles show, the best way to do this is with series of individual direct entry toilet rooms which can be used by men or women. Doors would be designed to ensure privacy, safety, and meet the cultural requirements of international visitors.  A three-to five inch gap at the bottom of otherwise complete doors would allow users waiting or washing their hands in the communal area to observe a user who had fallen to the floor and call for help.
Americans have lived in mixed-gender homes and share bathrooms with minimal fuss.  For more than a generation, male and female students have been sharing restrooms in university dormitories.  On the basis of our shared experience we can learn to accommodate mixed use in public restrooms.   Restrooms with common areas may even foster civil behavior and cleanliness; for example, more people may wash their hands after using the toilet.
At first people may feel minor discomfort at when using shared facilities just as folks born before 1960 had to get used to getting a haircut or working out at the gym in the presence of the opposite sex.  Minor discomfort is a small price to pay for benefits in safety, efficiency of use (no more lines at the women’s!), and cost effectiveness (reduced size of construction; no need for male and female cleaners, etc)
So public restroom design needs a thorough rethink.  But before we race back to the drawing board, we need to do our homework.   First, we need systematic research into user behavior and preference across the general population.   Second, we need to design for specific communities by listening to members from the start and involving them in design charrettes and planning for operations and maintenance.   Third, we’ll have to address code issues by requesting appropriate variances and working toward change in current  building and plumbing construction requirements.
For the moment, free standing, open space restroom buildings provide the best opportunity for innovation in public restroom design.  An excellent example is San Diego’s Kellogg Park Comfort Station where outdoor washbasins, showers, drinking fountains and exquisite public art combine with direct entry unisex stalls.
Why are we still building public restroom facilities designed for mid 20th century families rather than for the dynamic twenty-first century global society in which we now live?    A rethink of public restroom design would solve the dilemma that Lisa A. Fram outlines in  Men? Women? Parents Face Public Bathroom Dilemma: How old is too old to use an opposite-sex bathroom? (This Associated Press piece appears under various titles and has been picked up by media outlets across the country, including today’s Oregonian.) All of us, including children and adults in the company of opposite-sex caregivers, certainly deserve protection from inappropriate contact with strangers when we use the toilet.    While parents and caregivers welcome the family restrooms that larger establishments offer, having three separate facilities – for men, women, and families – is costly.  Moreover, the traditional layout of men’s and women’s gang-style restrooms – with their scantily partitioned stalls often hidden behind solid entry doors – offers little in the way of protection and comfort. According to the PHLUSH Public Restroom Design Principles, a vast improvement would be a series of individual direct entry toilet rooms which can be used by men or women. Doors would be designed to ensure privacy, safety, and meet the cultural requirements of international visitors.  A three-to-five-inch gap at the bottom of otherwise complete doors would allow users waiting or washing their hands in the communal area to observe a user who had fallen to the floor and to call for help. Americans have lived in mixed-gender homes and shared bathrooms with minimal fuss.  For more than a generation, male and female students have been sharing restrooms in university dormitories.  On the basis of this experience we can learn to accommodate mixed use in public restrooms.   Restrooms with common areas may even foster civil behavior and cleanliness; for example, more people may wash their hands after using the toilet. At first people may feel minor discomfort about using unisex facilities just as folks born before 1960 had to get used to haircuts and gym workouts in the presence of the opposite sex.  Minor discomfort is a small price to pay for benefits in safety, efficiency of use (no more lines at the women’s!), and cost effectiveness (reduced size of construction; no need for male and female cleaners, etc) So isn’t it time for a thorough rethink of public restroom design?  But before we race back to the drawing board, we need to do our homework.   First, we need nation-wide research on user attitudes, behavior and preference and inquiry into the policy implications for public health and urban planning.    Second, we need to design for specific locales by listening to community members from the start and involving them in design workshops and in planning for operations and maintenance.   Third, we’ll have to address code issues by requesting appropriate variances and working toward change in current  building and plumbing construction requirements. For the moment, free standing, open space restroom buildings provide the best opportunity for innovation in public restroom design.  An excellent example is San Diego’s award -winning Kellogg Park Comfort Station.  The small footprint structure combines outdoor washbasins, showers, drinking fountains and beautiful, educational public art with 10 regular and 2 ADA-compliant unisex stalls.    Doors of each toilet room provide privacy but open directly onto the seaside park, offering parents the option of using the family stalls or keeping track of their kids from a distance as they use the facility on their own.


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