Flush This: A discussion of bathrooms in two parts, part two.

Dateline: Two days ago.

The question was raised “Should women be designing ladies’ rooms?”

It was at that moment that I seriously considered wading in to the main conversation but decided not to risk a migraine. I bit down on my urge to say “SERIOUSLY? DID SOMEONE SERIOUSLY SUGGEST THIS?” at a volume that would make glass break and suggested politely that thoughtful design knows no gender. (This is often the case- polite response, screaming internally. It’s noisy in my head a lot.)

But since this is *my* blog, let me reiterate this:


See, even as a hypothetical question of “how does design change when x does it instead of y”, I’m not sure who this insults more, but it’s not a compliment to anyone. Let’s break this down:

1. It insults men. It says that men are obviously so lacking in basic understanding and home training (that clearly, they cannot have gained anywhere or learn anywhere) that they couldn’t possibly figure out how to thoughtfully design a ladies’ toilet. Obviously women do something in the bathroom that is so far outside the realm of understanding to men that they can’t POSSIBLY figure it out and design for it appropriately. More on this notion in a moment.

2. It insults women. It basically implies that in fact, we ARE doing something so outside the realm of understanding of men that clearly, only those of us versed in the art of oh I don’t know, not having a Y chromosome could possibly ever understand how to do it. It’s just too…girly for men to bother with and only women can do it right.

and finally, my favorite insult of all…

3. Does this mean people who are transgendered shouldn’t be able to design bathrooms? Does this become like the IOC where we should (again, realizing this was a hypothetical question but I’m showing how outrageous this entire line of thought is) test people to determine their sex? “Oh sorry, you had gender reassignment surgery so no bathroom design for you.”

Now, this question was not brought up with any of these three things in mind. Sadly it was brought up because unfortunately, it is taking far too long for a traditionally male dominated industry, PLUS those people who are responsible for building code in many places, AND lawmakers to learn some *basic facts of the universe*.

Here, let me help:

Women take slightly longer in the bathroom, on average, than men.

Not every woman, and not every time. As an overall group, yes- we do. Even sadder is the reasons ascribed to that- that we’re just primping or fussing about or whatever the fuck it is that sexists think about women in general. But that’s not really it. It’s due to two things- one- we don’t have exterior biological plumbing, and two – often our clothes are more complicated. That, folks is it. But the former is an immutable biological fact. Learn it, live it, feed it on Thursdays. The latter may not be immutable fact, but it is often true, particularly in winter months. Both of these things combine to create a situation where if you are designing a location that has male and female facilities, you *do* in fact, need more of them for women than men. A trip to ANY stadium, convention center, mall bathroom or amusement park will show you this problem in action. It can be identified by LONG lines for the womens facilities and NO line for the mens. It’s not because “men can hold it longer”, it’s not because “we’re playing with makeup or fixing our hair”. It’s because we can’t easily pee standing up, and we don’t have a way to “zip and whip”. We have to essentially partially undress every time we need to run to the bathroom and that takes a little longer.

Now, it’s a valid question to ask “WOULD a woman design toilets differently.” I contend if there’s a serious difference that cannot be ascribed to the individual designer in question, then you’re talking about *bad designers* in general. Part of our job is to understand our end users. When you can’t get the bathroom right you’ve missed this vital piece of your job. It’s one of the reasons I get so cranky when bathrooms are overlooked- when you so this you’re denying a fundamental part of *everyone’s* daily experience. You’re failing to really understand your end user. I would expect that if a male designer were designing a ladies room and wasn’t sure he’d gotten it right he’d just *ASK* a woman to look and see if there was anything he’d missed. I know I’d do the same thing if I were designing a facility for a group I wasn’t a part of- it’s called *research*. It’s what we do, isn’t it?

Yes, it is true, undeniably that building code and lawmakers need to finally and fully grasp that women do take a little longer and need more facilities than men because of it. But just as important is WHY- not some ridiculous and false notion of why that relegates women to the girly corner. A basic understanding of how people function in a real life way would do. But to suggest that there is some fundamental thing that male designers cannot and do not understand about women in regards of how they use a bathroom is insulting to everyone, and we can and should do better than that.

Flush this: A discussion in two parts.

Dateline: Yesterday.

A bunch of Architects and Designers get together both in person in the UK and online everywhere on Earth to discuss “matters of importance”. Most interesting conversation?

Bathrooms. We’re a wild bunch, let me tell you.

After trying to have this conversation in 140 characters or less, I realized it was once again time for me to start the Bathroom Manifesto Smackdown. I don’t think I’ve done it since I started this blog, but I’ve done it many, many times previously. However in this case there’s two different topics that need addressing and so I’m going to divide this into two parts so as not to confuse the issue in comments.

I had made the comment that I would settle for bathrooms not being an afterthought (I am STILL looking at you, Warner Center…). I have long been the champion of getting bathrooms right, so let’s take it from the top:

A bathroom, no matter where you design it, is an exercise in designing an experience. If you think it isn’t? You are missing a design and psychological opportunity and failing your clients.

Now, in a residential setting, this is obvious. If it weren’t true, there wouldn’t be a multimillion dollar bathroom industry. Bed, Bath and Bedamned wouldn’t exist, and Kohler would have gone out of business years ago. Proving the case for this in a residential setting is a no-brainer.

But what about all those other spaces? Retail, Hospitality, Restaurant, Office, Airports, Public Spaces, Convention Centers, etc. (I’m going to leave institutional design off this list because it’s governed by different priorities.) Guess what? It’s true of those places too. The question is identifying the goals of the people using the space and what the priorities of that experience are. It goes beyond peeing, people.

Here’s an example – In an office environment. Particularly here in the US where we work more hours a year than most other countries, you spend a lot of time at the office. Since fewer people smoke these days, there is less of a built in time or excuse to simply *walk away* for five minutes. People eat lunch at their desks, and they stare at a computer screen for long hours. But eventually, everyone is going to have to go to the bathroom. That’s an opportunity. I don’t mean it has to be the most luxurious event ever. What I do mean is that with a little forethought, people can walk away for that five minutes and actually come back a bit more relaxed, a little calmer, a bit more ready to tackle their day. Make those five minutes pleasant, and you get more pleasant people to deal with in general. Though people may do vastly different jobs in the same office what they all have in common is that at some point, they’re all going to need a bio break. It’s an opportunity to create a pleasant experience for everyone by design- one that levels the playing field for everyone and one where people can be equally comfortable.

In restaurants, if you blow the bathroom, you have *failed* as a restaurant designer. Honestly. No matter how much or how little room you have to work with, there is a way to make that experience part of the overall restaurant environment; make it part of a holistic package.

This overall idea can carry over into any kind of bathroom design situation. That’s not to say you should ignore the overall priorities of the project- but for every project there is a way to make the bathroom work and make people more happy, more relaxed, more ready to deal with the rest of their day due to the experience you provide, by design.

Bathrooms are fantastic equalizers. The question is what level do we want to equalize *to*?

Thus endeth part one. Part two is about bathroom and gender. Yeah that ought to get good, cause we all know how much I love institutionalized sexism. *eyeroll*