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:

Seriously? DID SOMEONE SERIOUSLY SUGGEST 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.

When interests collide.

I had meant to post about this yesterday, but didn’t get to it before getting sucked back into the Miami Project. Those who read my personal journal already know this, but this week’s episode of South Park featured an appearance by Jay Maynard, The Tron Guy.

southparkthumb.jpg

This capped off a day which was already surreal for other, unrelated reasons but this was certainly the cherry on the sundae. First of all, I don’t usually watch South Park. As much as it’s true that cartoons are essentially *all* I watch, I will only watch SP if it just happens to be there. In this case it was because Futurama had ended and I was busy winding a ball of yarn, so my hands were full. Imagine my surprise when all of a sudden Jay is on the show. I went running for my computer to IM him, screaming to turn on the television. As predicted, he had no idea this was coming (and Matt and Trey really screwed up his accent.) and both of us sat there watching while he was mauled by a panda of all things, which for other reasons completes some bizarre circle of life moment that would take too long to explain.

Now, Jay is a frequent commenter here and he’s a close friend(and was for years before all this Tronguy stuff.) But that’s not why I’m mentioning this here. It’s just that I helped Jay design the suit (yep. It’s true.) and out of all of the things I’ve ever helped design, this one has had a life *far* stranger than I could have ever possibly imagined. I know I never imagined this (and I am pretty sure Jay didn’t, either.)

This is not an improvement, people.

Let us review.

Before….

before

After:

This is not an improvement.

For those who may not know, one of my degrees is in restoration. Though I am *by no means* anti-development in the City of New York, I do think that there are some buildings that should not be significantly altered. This was one of them, and I have been vocal about that for years now. All we have now is another not only ugly, (woo hoo. You can create a grid in autocad. Congratulations.) but *boring* building that looks like a weird throwback. It’s not interesting(save the shape of the building, which was there to begin with), it’s not iconic. It’s not anything except another ugly building.

I have never once stated that I thought the original was some marvelous thing of beauty. But it was absolutely iconic, unique and architecturally interesting. It could not be mistaken for any other building, in a city where all too many structures blend together into sameness. It deserved protection it never got, save as a token last ditch effort by Landmarks West, who jumped into the fray with too little, too late when they could (and IMO, should) have gotten into the battle ten years earlier.

This is not an improvement. It’s just fucking sad.

I’m just going to say this.

I’ve just come back from, amongst other things, having a look at the “new and improved” 2 Columbus Circle building.  The scaffolding is coming down and you can really see what’s been done to it.  So I had a look.
I’m just going to put this out there- It’s fucking ugly.  As in it’s significantly worse than what was there to begin with, and the original was well known for the controversy it created on that score.  If this is supposed to be considered an improvement, we have problems.

There. I’ve said it, and I stand by it.

Photos and more on the topic to follow, because this is pissing me off.

Come on. Really?

Every so often I get shown something in the world of design that confirms that P.T. Barnum was right. There really is a sucker born every minute.

In this case, the sucker would be whomever decides to fork out a whopping $6,592 (no, seriously.) for this:

are you kidding me?

From  the retromodern site:

This fabulous stainless steel chair allows you – the user – to ultimately determine the resulting aesthetic by literally banging and hitting the form into the shape you desire. #50 in the edition is currently in stock for immediate delivery.”

Oh I’m sure it is available for immediate delivery.  Because first of all, you can buy a steel cube and a 20lb sledgehammer for a hell of a lot less than 6500 bucks.  And second of all, if “the user” ultimately decides on the resulting aesthetic, shouldn’t the manufacturer be paying them? That means *they’re* designing the chair, not the person who laughed their ass off after they came up with the notion “I wonder if we could actually sucker people into this one….”

And not for nothing, but I can design a more interesting chair from parts I buy at the Container Store.  Just sayin.

I also notice this design came out in 2000 and they still have some of the “limited edition” pieces remaining.

Somehow, I am not surprised.

(not so) Good Vibrations.

It was 5:30am exactly when the building began shaking.  The problem was that this wasn’t a movie.  It was my building, and that was yesterday.

There were a few upsides though. First of all, I was awake anyway, so my adrenal system didn’t go haywire from being woken up suddenly, and second of all, it wasn’t an earthquake.  This was mechanical.

A loud (very. very. loud.), rhythmic vibration was thrumming through the building, and it wasn’t coming from the street.  I tried calling security a couple of blocks away. I got voice mail. Nice, guys. Nice.  Fine.  It’s loud, it’s vibrating and it’s obviously some kind of mechanical problem.  Looks like a job for….well, me, apparently.  I grabbed my cell phone (as it contains a camera and a video option, albeit a poor quality one) , put on my sneakers and set forth to find out the source of this terrible noise.

It was much louder in the hallway.  It was even louder than that in the stairwell.  Oh goody, it’s coming from the roof. Fantastic.

I went up two flights of stairs to find the gentleman who lives in the penthouse apartment standing in the stairwell in his bathrobe, cell phone in hand. Whatever was causing this was doing it *right next to his apartment*.   He probably hit the ceiling when it started, and I don’t blame him. There was a recently patched bit of plaster on the wall at the top of the stairs that was not quite dry yet.
By now, the arch/design/engineering people reading this probably already know what the problem was.  I did, and it was confirmed when the guy from Penthouse A told me they’d been doing work in the stairwell on Thursday.  And the reason this is a DGD post and not merely one for my personal journal(though I’ll likely crosspost it- goodness knows it’s the most interesting thing to have happened in a while) is because the cause of the vibration was something that shows how apartment buildings work that people who are not in the industry usually don’t know.

Anyway, back to the vibration.  See, when you live in a building that is over six stories, you have a problem with water pressure.  In short, gravity works.  It’s difficult to provide adequate water pressure on demand to the upper floors, since you’re fighting gravity to get the water up there in the first place.  The solution is to pump water to the roof and store the water there. Gravity can be employed on demand to provide the pressure needed for fun things like showers, and toilet flushing, and being able to do your dishes.   Because as I said, gravity works.

Apparently, they’d been doing some kind of work to the pump mechanism.  Whatever they did, they didn’t seat it properly and it was probably resting against a steel support in the column with the patched plaster.  But it wasn’t secure.   When the pump went off, the vibration was transmitted to the steel support, which runs the length of the building.  The reason why the vibration began at exactly 5:30am is because the pump is on a timer.  It goes off several times a day in order to assure there’s enough water for the upper floors during peak times for water usage (like in the early morning, when most people shower.)

I managed to calm the (understandably frightened and damned pissed) guy in Penthouse A, who thanked me for being the only person to come and check on him (apparently he had the same luck with security and the service department that I did.)  I assured him that yes, the noise would stop soon, as soon as the pump ran through its’ cycle, but yeah- the service folks needed to get their asses back up there and open that wall up again.   Sure enough, the pump stopped five minutes later.  On my way back downstairs, my downstairs neighbor peeked his head into the stairwell to ask me if I knew what had happened. I explained, and assured him that no, the building wasn’t going to come down. 🙂

I suppose I’ll know if they fixed it in about an hour and fifteen minutes, since I was out all day yesterday taking photos for this new furniture project.

Engineering/arch/design knowledge avoids panic. Film at 11.  (I actually did take video of this, just because I was trying to get the sound- it was damned loud.)

They’re sadists. There. I said it.

Though I am sure I will have something more interesting to talk about tomorrow, since I have plans to take photos of a friend for the beginning stages of a furniture design project (and I’ll probably get some nice photos of Harlem too while I’m at it- I haven’t been taking enough photographs lately anyway), I do have something to say today.

The people at AutoDesk are sadists.  And not in a good, fun way, either.

Since the upgrade of my trusty computer Chuck to Chuck v3.0, I decided to bite the bullet and update AutoCAD too.  I knew going in that there was a good chance that I’d feel this way after I did so, and yep..here I am.

See, every year AutoDesk updates AutoCAD.  But I swear that these folks sit around cackling like madmen at their desks as they write in the changes.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate their hard work, but I swear that you spend six months learning where they moved everything, and then just when you finally get used to whatever version you just upgraded to, they release a new one, so you’re confused all over again.

So you decide, okay… I’m not going to update every year.  I’m just going to use the version I have and not make myself insane.

Yeah, that’s what I  did.  So now, the upgrade is *hyooooooge* and 3x as confusing and I want to put my head through the monitor.

Of course I’ll be fine in two weeks, once I learn how to switch all the menus back around to something that makes sense.  In the meantime, I’m glad I learned all those keyboard shortcuts.  Yeesh.

Damned sadists.

The Problem. (now with photographic evidence!)

Let’s play a game.

See if you can guess what’s my all time, number one, with a bullet design peeve.

Wait. This will never work- too many of you already know. Okay, for the three people on the planet that don’t yet know, it’s when tables are too close together in restaurants. This makes me CRAZY. And in NYC, with over 31,000 restaurants and little space, it bothers me a LOT.

Right up front- I am passionate about food. I own and co-moderate one food community and I’m a moderator on another. I cook. A lot. I take photos of food. A lot. I am deeply passionate about restaurants and restaurant culture. Restaurant design is my favorite kind, because I get design and food in one shot. I read just as many food blogs as design and architecture blogs, and I read a lot of design and architecture blogs.

I am all about this whole restaurant thing, and I live in one of the single best places in the world to *be* all about the whole restaurant thing. When I *do* wind up with a residential project I would much prefer it be a kitchen, and more than that, be a kitchen for someone who is going to beat the holy hell out of it, too. Because I understand that mentality.

Last night, while I was toodling around Noah Kalina’s photography site, I was faced with The Problem.

Over.

 

And over.

 

 

…and over.

 

 

I understand, fully and without any question that the goal of a restaurant is to make money and that in order to do that successfully you are trying to make the maximum money per square foot/meter of space. I GET IT. I also understand fully and without any question that in a tight space you are trying to put as many tables in as possible in order to increase the amount of money per square foot/meter. Understood.

However the LAWS OF PHYSICS prevent people from being able to reform themselves into two dimensional objects with no thickness in order to be able to slip between tables that are placed this close together. There is *no way* to get in and out of these seating arrangements easily and cleanly. Not to mention it’s not just you. It’s your bag, or your purse, or your briefcase, or whatever you were carrying with you that day. Even a light jacket or sweater, which is not a bad thing to have on you in summer since a lot of restaurants are overly air conditioned.

At a *bare minimum*, ergonomically speaking, you need 18″ between each of those tables in order to be able to safely get in and out from behind them. I didn’t say comfortably. For that, you’re looking at a minimum of 24″. And if you honestly don’t know those numbers, I know you flunked design studio somewhere. Probably more than once, and you deserved it, too.

This doesn’t even begin to address that in these photographic examples, you’re practically sitting in the lap of the person adjacent to you on the banquette. Do you really want to overhear everything they say that badly, or vice versa? Being that close to adjacent diners screws with your sense of territoriality in a big way sometimes, particularly when it comes to putting things down like purses or bags or jackets. I’ve read countless stories of diners winding up at one another’s throats because of this issue. Is it *that hard* to pull one table out and separate the others to accommodate for the basic realities of physics? Just because your C of O says you CAN fit X amount of people into the space does it mean you have to *try*? I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t pay an extra few dollars for their meal (especially here in NYC- come on, we’re already paying a fortune anyway) just to not be breathing in the exhale of the people sitting next to them against the wall.

Don’t even *begin* to give me the song and dance about “people being bigger now”. Look at these (really illustrative) photos. People *were never* that small. And yet we continue to think that in restaurants the laws of physics are somehow not applicable. It’s NONSENSE.

Move the damned tables.

On an entirely unrelated note- If you’re reading DGD from a feed? If you comment on the *feed* I don’t get it in my mailbox. I will only ever see the comment if I just happen to catch it. If you want me to see the comment you have to do it at the original post (meaning here, at the DGD site proper.)

 

 

 

 

 

You might be paid to think, but you’re not paid to read like stereo instructions.

“You’re not paid to think.”

Well actually, I am paid to think. It’s one of the best things about this job. It requires you to have a brain in your head. (see: differences between designers and decorators, part #4,587) I love the fact that I’m paid to think. For someone who tends to live in their head anyway (like me) this is an absolute bonus plan.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t understand why so many people who are paid to think also think they’re paid to write using a pretentious, specified lexicon where it’s not needed, in order to sound like they’re somehow more elite than the average schmuck who is reading what they’re saying. I read a LOT of architecture and design material, and so much of it is full of shit. Not because the *ideas* themselves are bad- they’re not(okay, well sometimes they are, but not in any greater percentage over any other ideas presented differently). I just have a hard time suppressing the urge to slap people upside who can’t figure out how to write without sounding like they came out of a 15 week course in Art Criticism and Pretension, and got an A.

It’s not a matter of vocabulary, in the sense of “words one doesn’t understand”. It’s a matter of sounding like you’re deliberately going out of your way to exclude as many people who are not as “in the know” as you are. In the end, so many times people wind up sounding like *complete morons* because of it. What? Do you think you get paid more if you sound like that? Only if your clients are seriously stupid, and one would hope that they aren’t, because stupid clients are a pain in the ass.

I was reading something yesterday and there was a comment that made me think “What the hell does that even *mean*? Does the author even know, or did they just pull random words out of a hat, reordered them so they were grammatically correct, and is having a fantastic laugh over how “enlightened” they sound.

Come on, knock it off. You’re not fooling anyone.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

I love industrial design. Love. I will happily sit around and design products, furniture and *stuff* all day long if someone asks me to, which is funny, because I genuinely and honestly hate *shopping*(I do as much shopping as I possibly can online- the only thing I don’t mind buying in person is groceries. Seriously.). But designing product? I’m right there. And I am fully behind the push for big name designers to do industrial design for stores like Target, because I think that’s a significantly more important sector of the market than high end, consumer-wise.

The whole thing about modernism is that it was supposed to not only be a departure in looks from traditional items, it was supposed to also be about accessibility. As much as people make fun of Ikea, they at least haven’t missed the point of that. But when the vast bulk of modern looking stuff comes out on the high end price wise, I fail to see how this is any different than what existed in the 15th century, where the only people who could afford decent furnishings were the very wealthy. Considering we have managed to move beyond the Industrial Revolution, this seems to me to be patently ridiculous.

Which brings me to this.

2007-11-1-hook.jpg

Cute, right? It’s a storage hook, with a little opening at the top to put your keys, or sunglasses or whathaveyou. It’s a good idea. Everyone needs a place for random crap and keeping it right by your coat isn’t a bad plan. I can see putting one of these inside your garage or in your foyer. Take off your jacket, drop your keys or the leash for your dog and you’re good to go.

For reasons that I’m not really clear on it’s ceramic, which is certainly not my first choice of material for this otherwise useful item. Ceramics chip. If it falls off the wall, it’s going to break. If you put something too heavy on it, down it goes, and the weight of it might pull a chunk of drywall with it. Ceramic stuff isn’t exactly lightweight itself. Good for dishes, but I’m not so sure this is its’ best application.

But let’s set that aside for a moment. Can someone explain to me in small words that make sense why that item is $270-(on sale now for $98-!)?

No, really. That’s not a typo.

I’m completely at a loss to make sense of this. Wouldn’t it make a lot MORE sense to make these in plastic and sell them for $20- at Target? You’d sell a hell of a lot more of them, and you’d actually be changing how people function within their daily lives. You know, the *point* of good industrial design?

The mind reels, folks.

In other, only tangentially related news, I designed a new lamp today. Or at least got the basics down on paper. Like I said- I love industrial design.