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Bathrooms for Humans dignity in elimination / the all-gender toilet room

Catherine Joseph, Whitney Odell | FXCollaborative

Bathrooms for Humans dignity in elimination / the all-gender toilet room

Catherine Joseph, LEED AP BD+C, FXCollaborative Whitney Odell, AIA, LEED AP, Associate, FXCollaborative

Choosing Visit any NYC Department of Parks Recreation Center and you will see a slew of signs posted around the facility. Some broadcast the aerobics class schedule. Others inform guests of a holiday closing. Many are stuffed in plastic sleeves, the ink slightly fuzzy from the humidity generated by the Center’s use. Plastered outside the locker rooms and bathrooms, and posted in duplicate inside, is a different sign. This one reads: “You have the right to use the restroom, locker room, and other single-sex facility consistent with your gender identity or gender expression.” It is clear that this city department is committed to ensuring the safety and comfort of all of its

members. The signs are also meant to ensure that staff do not commit unintentional acts of gender identity discrimination. But the reach of the city’s ruling regarding toilet rooms at city facilities1 is limited by the layout of the locker room and toilet room facilities. These facilities were designed with little or no privacy, relying on the presumed comfort of binary genders, what we might currently call the gender majorities, to meet expectations of privacy and protection. Though signs indicate that bathrooms and locker rooms are inclusive and welcoming, the actual composition and quality of the space says otherwise.

Bathrooms are contested spaces that are not immune to current political agendas. Bathroom access, and its use as a political tool, are inextricably tied to the passage of nondiscrimination laws. At the root of this is society’s understanding of gender identity, expectations of access and privacy, and the now-ingrained assumptions of gender-segregated bathroom design. Throughout history, the presence or absence of appropriate toilet facilities has served as the strongest signal to particular social groups that they are included or excluded.2 The absence of these facilities has been one of the clearest limitations for social groups to participate in society. Ultimately, bathroom rights are civil rights.

1 On March 7, 2016, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an Executive Order that mandates all City Departments allow all people to freely access the single-sex facility consistent with their gender identity and gender expression. Source: New York City Office of the Mayor 2 Olga Gershenson and Barbara Penner, Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender (Philadelphia, Temple University Press., 2009), introduction ix-x.



Bathrooms for Humans

Potty Talk

Colloquially, we use a variety of names for the space of elimination, virtually interchangeably. We say “restroom,” even when an area of respite is absent. We say “bathroom” even when there is no bath. In this study we follow a similar colloquial looseness with our language, except when we are discussing design speculation of ‘toilet rooms.’ We did this to emphasize that we have not considered bathing or lounge accommodations in our design thinking, but that we accept the linguistic fluidity of interchanging terms when speaking casually about bathrooms.



a toilet


a toilet

a toilet



a toilet or bathroom on a boat or ship

a toilet or outhouse


an outbuilding with no plumbing containing a toilet


an outhouse

Toilet Room

a room containing a toilet

Water Closet a room containing a toilet

Catherine Joseph, Whitney Odell | FXCollaborative


a toilet [or] a movable washstand



the fixture that accommodates elimination

a room containing toilet and sink [or] a sink [or] a toilet


a bathroom or a toilet


a room containing space and fixtures for elimination and respite


a room containing space and fixtures for elimination and bathing

Powder Room a women’s bathroom in public building

Comfort Station a public restroom for travelers or campers

Rest Stop public facility to use restroom

Wash Room

a room containing washing and elimination facilities



Bathrooms for Humans

base design parameter, underscoring expectations of inclusion and access for all. Bathrooms for Humans is an effort to bring bathrooms out of the stranglehold of politics and back into the realm of public interest and design, where they belong. Our premise is that “inclusive design,” as it is broadly defined, is the responsibility of all designers regardless of current (and mutable) legislation. We aim to restore dignity to the mundane but necessary tasks of everyday living.

Figure 1

This sign can be found outside bathrooms and locker rooms in New York City Department of Parks Recreation Centers. Its language is specific and inclusive, but the space it applies to does not always productively or safely support its intent.

This study, Bathrooms for Humans, examines common assumptions about access, inclusion, and the gendering of space. Over the last few centuries, the design of multi-user toilet rooms has been driven by the socio-political constructs of gender. But current definitions of identity confirm that gender is fluid. As we study and offer ways to transform one of the most ubiquitous shared spaces in the American city, gender will be reevaluated as the primary

New York City can be on the cutting edge of this progress, and the city’s recent ruling for inclusivity in toilet facilities serves as proof.3 However, if gender inclusivity is the basis of our design, a better sign in the NYC Parks facilities might read: “You have the right to use the bathroom.” That is the crux of it. The right to eliminate bodily waste in a hygienic, safe, and private toilet room (used according to one’s preferences, not society’s expectations) is a human right, equivalent to access to shelter, food, and water. The most straightforward definition of a toilet room is that it is a compartment used for the purpose of elimination. Its functional necessities might be identified as a receptacle or fixture (i.e., the toilet or urinal), a plumbing connection or septic container, and at the very least, a modicum of privacy. Beyond that, bathrooms serve a variety of significant purposes during the day,

3 “ Mayor de Blasio Mandates City Facilities Provide Bathroom Access to People Consistent with Gender Identity.” The official website of the City of New York. Last modified March 7, 2016. http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/223-16/mayor-de-blasio-mandatescity-facilities-provide-bathroom-access-people-consistent-gender#/0.

Catherine Joseph, Whitney Odell | FXCollaborative

Figure 2

The #BeYouNYC campaign references a fluid understanding of gender identity and gender expression, as indicated by the effort to look past binary toilet room labeling of men/ women and pink/blue. Source: NYC Commission on Human Rights

as places to discreetly take medicine or address medical needs, take refuge from stressful situations, find privacy required by religious beliefs, change a baby’s diaper, and many others. Gender-specification does not seem to be a necessity to properly defining a toilet room. What has become increasing clear in the last few decades, however, is that the current design schemes and legal doctrines that govern bathrooms, which have not been significantly altered or addressed

in many decades, are inadequate in allowing all people to feel that they have the ability to comfortably and safely use the bathroom. In an effort to provide a useful study of and argument for the gender desegregation of bathrooms, this paper has been undertaken in parts. The politics of gender and the gendered power of space will be considered in the context of gender segregation in toilet rooms. Current toilet room design parameters and stakeholders will be analyzed, particularly in relation to proposed legislation, current code requirements and anticipated efficiencies. Finally, a speculative design discussion, fundamentally grounded in a new questioning of the



Bathrooms for Humans

From the Beginning: The History of Toilet Room Segregation in the US

Figure 3

Alexander Kira’s 1976 text, The Bathroom, is a comprehensive analysis of the ergonomics of elimination. The study and the resultant text is broad, addressing the anatomical plumbing of elimination, expectations and perceptions of privacy, considerations for cleaning the toilet facilities and many other topics.

space of the toilet room, will attempt to challenge the status quo of inclusion, accessibility, and function. The effort is not to provide a single, uniform solution for improved, genderless toilet room spaces. The intent is rather to develop new questions and procedures for designing toilet rooms for contemporary society.

Public bathrooms and civil rights make an unlikely couple. One accommodates a necessary indelicacy that is little discussed while the other impresses ideas of inclusion and the freedom to partake in society as a full, recognized member. As Gershenson and Penner write, the absence of public toilet facilities has historically signified a social group’s existence outside of the body politic, and outside of culturally acceptable identities. The absence of appropriate facilities cements the notion that there is no room for them in public space.4 During the Suffrage movement in the United Kingdom, access to public toilets was considered a right equal to the right to vote.5 During the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s & 1960s in the United States, bathrooms and locker rooms were significant battlegrounds for desegregation, and continued to be spaces of contention for many years after the legal achievement of Civil Rights.6 Toilet room segregation by gender has not always been mandated by law. One of the primary reasons for this was that women’s toilet rooms simply did not exist in the public sphere. The contentious arrival of public women’s facilities was a slow, painstaking fight. The first public women’s rooms, and thus, the first sex-segregated toilets were constructed in the 18th century in Paris.7

4 Olga Gershenson and Barbara Penner, Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009). 5 Clara Greed, Inclusive Urban Design: Public Toilets (Routledge, 2016). 6 Olga Gershenson and Barbara Penner, Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009), 7. 7 Maya Rhodan. “Bathroom Bills: How American Bathrooms Got Separated by Sex; Why Do We Have Men’s and Womens’ Bathrooms Anyway.” Time Magazine. Last modified May 16, 2016. http://time.com/4337761/history-sex-segregated-bathrooms/.

Catherine Joseph, Whitney Odell | FXCollaborative



Men’s public toilet facilities provided in Scotland. Women had no access to facilities in public, so they either didn’t go out, or they didn’t go.


Construction of public toilets at Great Exhibition legitimized the existence of toilet facilities in public.



Clara Greed publishes Inclusive Urban Design— Public Toilets.


Wisconsin amends Commercial Building Code to address Potty Parity.


Americans with Disabilities Act becomes law.


Restroom Revolution—UMASS Amhearst—“Do you know that you are sitting on a seat of privilege?”


Jeannette Pickering Rankin, of Montana, becomes first woman elected to US House of Representatives.


Hattie Caraway, of Arkansas, becomes first woman to win an election to the US Senate.


James v. Stockham addressed charges of discrimination based on the presence of segregated facilities.


First women’s room designated on the US Senate Floor.


19th amendment to US Constitution gives women the right to vote.


Women’s public toilet proposed in London vestry of St. Pancras. Opposition to the proposal complained that a women’s lavatory would lower property values, and called the plan an abomination. The site was abandoned.

New York City passes Transgender Rights Bill preventing discrimination based on gender identity or expression, including denying bathroom access.


Women’s public toilet in London vestry of St. Pancras is approved.



Lawyer John Banzhaf II files “potty parity” complaint against University of Michigan arguing that not providing equitable provisions for woman may constitute a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. As with the Separate Facilities requirement in the Plumbing Code, this argument required emphasizing the gender binary to achieve parity.


Women’s public facilities provided in scotland.

California passes Restroom Equity Act


Alexander Kira publishes The Bathroom, a comprehensive study of elimination.

Western Electric Company, following a change in plumbing code, adopted a policy against segregated toilet facilities. Although desegregation survived great opposition, the arrangement of the new facilities promoted a de facto segregation.


‘Brown v. Board of Education’ establishes that “separate but equal is inherently unequal.”


Equal Rights Amendment is defeated. Gore Vidal lists ladies’ rooms as one of several “tried-and-true hot buttons”. Opposition to the ERA claimed that it would mandate gender-neutral bathrooms.

As of 2017, 36 states have ratified the ERA. In order to be added to the Constitution, 38 states must approve. The ERA has still not been ratified.


Nancy Pelosi becomes first female Speaker of the US House of Representatives.


Olga Gershenson and Barbara Penner publish Ladies and Gents.


Houston passes HERO, prohibiting discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodation based upon sexual orientation and gender identity.


Mayor Bill de Blasio passes Executive Order requiring New York City agencies to allow access to single-sex facilities consistent with gender identity and expression.


New York City passes legislation requiring any single-occupancy toilet rooms to permit access to all genders.


President Trump rescinds nondiscrimination protections for transgender students in federally funded schools. This protection had also previously requested that these schools allow trans* students to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.


“Do Not Silence My Bladder” campaign for public toilets in Ghent, Belgium.


New York City passes Local Law 57 amending the administrative code of the city to provide equal access to bathroom facilities (potty parity).


Rose George publishes The Big Necessity.


first women’s restroom in US House of Representatives Speakers floor is designated.



Houston rescinds HERO, on premise North Carolina passes House Bill 2 (HB2), that HERO would let trans* people “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act”, go to the bathroom consistent with specifically prohibiting trans* people their gender identity, which would from using the bathroom consistent put cisgender women at risk. with their gender identity in schools and governmental buildings.

Figure 4

A concise history of contemporary bathroom access.

In 1887, Massachusetts became the first state to mandate the establishment of separate toilet facilities in businesses, specifying that the gender identity of each facility “should be plainly designated.” At the time, mandating this separation, and in the end, the existence of a women’s toilet room, was a way of legitimizing women’s place in society. Specifically, it was a way to ensure that as women

began to pursue professional opportunities outside of the home, they would have a safe and private toilet facility. These laws, however successful, were rooted in the assumption that women need to be protected from men to maintain their safety and moral purity. As Terry Kogan told Time, it was an attempt to ensure that the comforts and protections of home followed women


North Carolina overturns controversial HB2, but delays the inclusion of LGBTQ people in nondiscrimination statues until 2020.



Bathrooms for Humans

out into society. Between 1887 and 1917, almost every state in the country enacted a similar law.8 The fear of gender mixing at the time was in response to the mixing of both race and gender. Protecting white women is one of the primary arguments that was used to justify racially segregated toilet rooms. Protecting women is one of the primary reasons that the Equal Rights Amendment did not pass, with opponents arguing that such a law would require gender-neutral public toilet facilities. At that time, gender segregated toilet rooms were an important political tool, a significance which has not been lost to history. Public bathrooms have been, and continue to be, important battlegrounds for civil rights and inclusion.9 Sapna Cheryan et al, in studies about the inclusiveness of spaces to perceived outsiders, argue that “environments can act as gatekeepers by preventing people who do not feel they fit into those environments…”10 This feeling of fitting in has been termed ambient belonging. How a person relates to materials and physical objects within a space, or to the structure and spatial layout itself all contribute to one’s feeling of ambient belonging. Perhaps most significant, however, is the way that society imagines appropriate occupants of certain environments, projecting these assumptions, often inaccurate and restricting, on all who enter.

If we take the Ladies’ Room as a case study, we find that opposition to a public women’s lavatory was not based so much on the proposed function of the facility. Instead, argues Barbara Penner, the objection was to its proposed users: women. Sanctioning a public toilet facility for women sanctioned women’s presence in society and legitimized the female presence on the street. This, not the sanitary facility itself, was what violated social decorum.11 In assessing the presence of appropriate toilet facilities, or their absence, we were reminded of the representation provided in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures.” The scenes of actress Taraji P. Henson dashing back-and-forth to a designated black-only bathroom underscores the disadvantage that racial segregation imposed on the professional productivity of the brilliant Katherine Johnson and the talented black women of the Space Mission. Most significantly, the lack of an inclusive toilet in the building in which Johnson worked wasted significant amounts of her time and caused her to often be absent from the room. In the years after the space mission, the bathroom dash continued. The first female senator of the United States, Hattie Caraway of Arkansas, was elected in 1932. The first women’s toilet rooms on the Senate floor were designated in 1993, 61 years after Caraway’s election. Further, the first

8 Maya Rhodan. “Bathroom Bills: How American Bathrooms Got Separated by Sex; Why Do We Have Men’s and Womens’ Bathrooms Anyway.” Time Magazine. Last modified May 16, 2016. http://time.com/4337761/history-sex-segregated-bathrooms/. 9 O  lga Gershenson and Barbara Penner, Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009), 7. 10 Sapna Cheryan, Paul G. Davies, Victoria C. Plaut and Claude M. Steele, “Ambient Belonging: How Stereotypical Cues Impact Gender Participation in Computer Science.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 97, no. 6 (2009): 1045-1060. 11 Olga Gershenson and Barbara Penner, Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009), 5.

Catherine Joseph, Whitney Odell | FXCollaborative

female representative in the US House, Jeannette Pickering Ranking was elected in 1916, and Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, served from 2007 to 2011. The first women’s toilet room on the Speakers Floor was designated in 2011.12 For nearly a century, session break times were shorter than the time needed to reach the nearest women’s room and return.13

Admittance | Bathroom Bills If we take this precedent of exclusion and segregation and apply it to modern day public facilities, the absence of adequately inclusive facilities for those who feel they do not belong in either the men’s toilet room or the women’s toilet room conclusively de-legitimizes their presence in public space. One of the first occurrences, in recent times, of a “bathroom bill” controversy was in Houston in 2015. The city passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in 2014, which prohibited discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations. What was groundbreaking about this ordinance was that it included sexual orientation and gender identity in the nondiscrimination directive.14 Even today, most states’ nondiscrimination statues do not include people who identify as LGBTQ. In November of 2015, the city voted to rescind the

ordinance on the premise that HERO would let trans people use the toilet room consistent with their gender identity. The argument, ultimately, was that this allowance would compromise the safety and security of cisgender women.15 In February 2016, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, passed an ordinance extending nondiscrimination protections for marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. While Charlotte’s ordinance was intended to extend basic civil nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people, lawmakers retaliated with bathrooms, stating that eliminating separate facilities would “deny women their right to basic safety and privacy.” And so the state passed House Bill 2, officially called the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act,” which nullified all local nondiscrimination ordinances and specified that all people must use the toilet room consistent with their birth sex, as designated by their birth certificate.16 All this was done in the name of protecting women in the bathroom. Meanwhile, a 2013 survey by the Williams Institute showed that 70% of trans people experienced denial of access, verbal harassment, or physical assault in an attempt to use the bathroom.17 In March 2017,

12 An achievement attributed to John Boehner. 13 Nancy McKeon. “Women in the House get a restroom.” The Washington Post. Last modified July 28, 2011. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/women-in-the-house-geta-restroom/2011/07/28/gIQAFgdwfI_story.html?utm_term=.80ef454e57ea. 14 A n achievement attributed to John Boehner. 15 Nancy McKeon. “Women in the House get a restroom.” The Washington Post. Last modified July 28, 2011. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/women-in-the-house-geta-restroom/2011/07/28/gIQAFgdwfI_story.html?utm_term=.80ef454e57ea. 16 “North Carolina Repeals Portions Of Controversial ‘Bathroom Bill’.” NPR. Last modified March 30, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/30/522009335/ north-carolina-lawmakers-governor-announce-compromise-to-repeal-bathroom-bill. 17 Maya Rhodan. “Bathroom Bills: How American Bathrooms Got Separated by Sex; Why Do We Have Men’s and Womens’ Bathrooms Anyway.” Time Magazine. Last modified May 16, 2016. http://time.com/4337761/history-sex-segregated-bathrooms/.



Bathrooms for Humans

The Bathroom Travel Ban

In the course of our research, we spoke with many bathroom stakeholders. During some of those conversations, foreigners stated that they had stopped traveling to the United States because of the “bathroom laws” that a number of states have considered or passed. The personal safety of these individuals was rightly more important than business or personal travel, and so they stayed away. Bathroom bans are about exclusion from more than just the bathroom.

House Bill 2 was amended to remove the bathroom mandate, but instead prevented the enactment of local LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances until 2020. What is hopefully clear by now is that protecting the safety of women in the toilet room is not the ultimate goal of opposition to inclusive bathroom policy. And none of these battles truly begin as bathroom concerns. The gender-segregated toilet room is a political tool being utilized to wage a war against anti-discrimination efforts. And currently, opponents to inclusive toilet room access are able to lean on building codes to defend their arguments.

It is significant to note that all of these efforts to regulate who is allowed in toilet rooms, as well as the metrics for evaluation, and who gets to do the evaluating, are being decided by politicians. In most instances, efforts to protest these restrictive and exclusive measures have centered around the terminology and graphic representations on the signs that label the rooms. These are a good stopgap measure, a move in the right direction. But the reality is that the spaces are still gendered. Or rather, each space requires you to announce your gender, definitively and publicly, to gain entry. A few examples have tried to upend the required gender declaration (e.g., “We don’t care. Just wash your hands.”). But no matter what the sign says, we do care. The signs do not go far enough in truly accommodating the groups currently excluded from our toilet rooms. One of the most remarkable aspects of New York City’s effort to provide inclusive toilet room access in city facilities is that the city’s ruling explicitly references a person’s gender, not their sex. While most people subscribe to a gender definition that matches their biological sex, New York City separates the two definitions, and preferences the expression of one’s gender over the statistical gamble of our birth sex. Because the protections afforded to gender identity and expression in New York City seem to be so

Catherine Joseph, Whitney Odell | FXCollaborative

Figure 5

This card was created to provide information regarding possible forms of gender identity discrimination. Please note that contact information on the card may no longer be accurate. TLDEF, Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund; NYAGRA, New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy; NYCLU, New York Civil Liberties Union. Source: Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund



Bathrooms for Humans

segregated facility.” At the bottom of the card a warning to the cardcarrier reads: “These rules are not well known. Show this card if you have problems using a restroom or other sex-segregated facility because of your gender identity or expression.” While some recent efforts to provide equal access have begun to recognize that building codes are one of the primary obstacles in the development and implementation of all-gender toilet facilities, very few have gone so far as to consider or understand the social and spatial effect of gender inclusive toilet rooms. What gender inclusivity means in relation to fixture count is a question separate from what it means spatially.

Bathroom Signage

Bathroom signs are the purported gate-keepers for gender-separated bathroom spaces. Updates to these signs are a good stop-gap measure, but ultimately, we do still care. Until the gendered nature of toilet room spaces is addressed, inclusion will never be fully realized.

little known, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund produced a card that provides a legal defense against gender discrimination. The card, cosponsored by the NYAGRA and NYCLU (Figure 5) reads: “The New York City Commission on Human Rights says that these acts may be gender identity discrimination: Stopping you from using a restroom or other sex-segregated facility that matches your gender identity and gender expression; Asking you to provide ID to prove your gender in order to use a restroom or other sex-

The Gendering of Space Many of us have never considered changing our appearance before entering the toilet room in an effort to comply, at least visually, with the sign at the door. For those who do not conform to a binary gender definition, altering one’s appearance might be necessary in order to safely enter and use a toilet room. When we talk about danger in the toilet room, it is usually about the safety of women. Few mainstream conversations regarding bathroom access include statistics about how gender non-conforming people are also in danger. Consider a man who was born with women’s genitalia. By some requirements, the law mandates that this man use

Catherine Joseph, Whitney Odell | FXCollaborative

the women’s room. But if this man presents his gender identity as a man, then, by appearances, he is unable to use the women’s room. If he enters the women’s room, he is thrown out. If he enters the men’s room, he either has to carry urination aids or hope that there is a door and partitions that reach the floor of the toilet stall, lest someone see which way his feet point when he pees. For any person who does not conform to the binary separation of our toilet facilities, any effort to maintain their own safety, physical and otherwise, in entering a gender-designated toilet room requires compromising their dignity and personhood. In beginning an analysis of gender segregated restrooms, and the spatial implications of all-gender facilities, it is important to demarcate the boundaries between sex and gender. Although sex and gender are often used interchangeably in colloquial speech, this study subscribes to a strict differentiation between the two for clarity of analysis and argument. Increasingly, sex is being scientifically defined as biological differences that are primarily dimorphic among humans. While some fluidity among sex traits does occur, the majority of the population can be categorized according to sex dimorphism. Note also that this relates only to the biological characteristics, not to sexual preference. Gender, in contrast, has traditionally been viewed as

a social construct that categorizes the binary sexes according to social and cultural expectations. Internal awareness also contributes to gender identification, and although traditional models of gender definition subscribe to a binary distinction, gender is now understood to be separate from sex, including a wide spectrum of definitions which have begun to undermine the status quo of the binary male and female.18 Nowhere, argues Gerard Lico, is gender dimorphism more conspicuous than in the segregation and layout of the public restroom. More generally, Lico concludes, architecture provides a stage on which human subjectivity is conceived, confirmed by society, and constantly performed.19 One might argue that public toilet facilities in particular provide a coalescing of human natural character with learned cultural and personal expectations. This provides a situation that, based on our need for (or perhaps, desire for), standardization in social and public matters, forces us to rely on cultural perceptions rather than our own subjectivity. Taking these studies of gender, the gendering of space, and the power of gendered space as a conceptual basis for the redevelopment of the toilet room, we might conclude, as political theorist Judith Butler has, that gender is a non-static, always contested, and always transforming, state of being. Gender, Butler argues,

18 “Definitions Related to Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity in APA Documents.” American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexualitydefinitions.pdf. North Carolina Repeals Portions Of Controversial ‘Bathroom Bill’.” NPR. Last modified March 30, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/30/522009335/ north-carolina-lawmakers-governor-announce-compromise-to-repeal-bathroom-bill. 19 Gerard Rey A. Lico. “Architecture and Sexuality: The Politics of Gendered Space.” Humanities Diliman 2, no. 1 (2001): 30-44.



Bathrooms for Humans

is not a given or a starting point. Instead it is a construct that can be formalized in a “non-arbitrary way through a matrix of habits, practices, and discourses.” 20 Acknowledging this understanding of gender, and accommodating it in an inclusive design practice, means that we remove the construct as a primary origin of bathroom design.

…gender is a non-static, always contested, and always transforming, state of being. Gender, Butler argues, is not a given or a starting point. In furthering her arguments of the non-stable nature of gender, Butler argues that gender is a powerful social construct, possessing the ability to undermine the status quo, forcing progress and change in different social and political groups based solely on proximity and association.21 This could not be truer or more relevant than in the current and future attempts to re-design public toilet facilities. By proposing to omit gender as a base design parameter, we are not trying to undermine the strength of gender as a social motivator. Instead, we accept the power that the construct wields, and recognize that this current moment is a direct result of gendered power and gendered space. Moving forward, however, we believe it is important to begin the re-design of toilet facilities

based upon less-mutable conditions and characteristics, to create a base typology, or set of typologies, to which gender can be reintroduced on an as-needed basis. In all of our discussions, the primary sentiment regarding the importance of gender-segregated facilities was one of privacy. Only a few people remarked on the significance of the toilet room as a social space, especially mentioning perceptions of the women’s facilities as spaces of camaraderie and gossip. And while the importance of single-sex spaces, for both men and women, should not go unrecognized, we wonder why it is important that this space is confined to the toilet room, an apparently “dirty” space in which most who use it would prefer to be alone or secluded. As it became more socially acceptable for women to work outside of the home, the traditional gendering of space was upended. As this happened, the provision of gendered space within public areas seems, oddly, to have been squeezed into the confines of the toilet room. Are we sentimental about gender-separated toilet rooms because they represent one of the last vestiges of gendered social gathering space? If we eliminate gender as a primary design parameter, will we lose a kind of space that exists only in gendered toilet rooms? If so, is it important that this type of space be confined to the toilet room, or would it be acceptable to simply

20 Lori A. Brown, Contested Spaces: Abortion Clinics, Women’s Shelters and Hospitals Politicizing the Female Body (London and New York, Routledge, 2016), 23. 21 Ibid.

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SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology Bathroom Signage

Updates to signage are a significant first step towards acknowledging the need for inclusive bathroom spaces. The Fashion Institute of Technology, in collaboration with Gumus Design Group, redesigned their toilet room signage to be explicitly inclusive, and it has provided guidance and information about all-gender toilet rooms on their website. Though this initial signage effort does not immediately affect the spatial layout of existing toilet rooms, the direct language recognizes the necessity for inclusion in these spaces. Now, architects must turn our attention to accommodating this in the toilet room spaces themselves. Source: Fashion Institute of Technology

provide a social space in which both men and women would feel comfortable? These are questions that are beyond the scope of this paper, but we believe they are imperative to consider in order to redefine the space of the toilet room. Although Lico’s work focuses primarily on the dynamics and politics of gender according the presumed binary, his sentiments can be extrapolated. “The stereotyping of gender relations universalizes women’s needs as unchanging and, therefore, creates

building standards which trap women in the roles assigned to them.” 22 Similarly, presumed gender binary stereotypes and gendered spaces trap people within that dualism. Bathrooms in particular force us to reconfirm our association with a particular identity multiple times a day and in the presence of both our colleagues and strangers, exposing us to judgement and derision should we make a choice that is out of line with the expectations of others.

22 G  erard Rey A. Lico. “Architecture and Sexuality: The Politics of Gendered Space.” Humanities Diliman 2, no. 1 (2001): 30-44.



Bathrooms for Humans

Some institutions have made an effort to underscore one’s right to access the toilet, even if it is not possible to actually alter the configuration of the room itself. To achieve this, they have redesigned the signs to add text that explains this. To be clear, when applied to existing, gender-separated toilet rooms, these signs, like those shown on the preceding page, state that regardless of your birth sex, if you identify as a woman, you use the women’s room, and if you identify as a man, you use the men’s room. And often, if you don’t identify as either, or if you fear that someone will question your use of what you deem is an appropriate facility, you must use a third space, a special room that is designated as Family, Handicapped, or sometimes All-Gender. For many, this is a temporary bandage for a more systemic social wound. In buildings in which retrofitting toilet rooms cannot result in a single, adequate, code-compliant toilet room, this is an expedient and efficient fix. However, a more effective, long-term, and spatial solution should still be the goal.

Privacy As we sought to understand and define the space of the toilet room, the most important question, and the one that we have grappled with most in our discussions with bathroom stakeholders, is how designers design for privacy. In an anonymous survey distributed to our FXCollaborative colleagues, we received the following

comment: “I’m still stuck on privacy… Answer privacy and you’ve solved the problem.” 23 Everyone, it seems, is stuck on privacy. While there are clear definitions of privacy, it is useful to dwell on it briefly to understand what privacy could mean in a multi-user toilet room. The multi-user toilet room might initially be classified as a public amenity. The space is a human necessity, one recognized by building codes, and used by all humans at various times throughout the day. Yet, the actions performed within this public amenity space are among the most private of our daily tasks. “Privacy” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the state of being free from public attention.” 24 In contrast to the urban planning phenomenon of Privately Owned Public Spaces, snappily referred to as POPS, one could argue that a public toilet room is Publicly Owned Private Space. Say that sentence out loud in front of design colleagues and observe the brows furrowing because it is unclear what sense this moniker actually makes.25 Public toilet rooms are indeed intended to be publicly accessible and inclusive. And within that public space is another space in which we partake in private action. No matter how inclusive the space, or how much privacy is afforded, to be in a public toilet is to be exposed to the judgment and biases of others. And it is this judgement and bias that defines the power of the space, and ultimately its gendering.

23 F  XCollaborative, “Inter-Office Bathroom Preference Survey” (anonymous survey in author’s possession, New York, 2017). 24 “privacy.” Merriam-Webster.com. Last modified 27 January 2018. https://www.merriamwebster.com. 25 In discussing the definition and possible applications of the concept of ‘Publicly Owned Private Space,’ and especially in considering ways to differentiate the acronym from POPS, it was suggested that a more appropriate moniker might be Publicly Owned & Operated Private Space.

Catherine Joseph, Whitney Odell | FXCollaborative

FXCollaborative Bathroom Survey


In anticipation of the Bathrooms Rebooted design charrette, we issued a survey to the entire FXCollaborative staff.


The survey asked three questions: 1. Aside from elimination, what do you use a bathroom/toilet room for?


2. W  ould all-gender bathrooms affect your use of the space? In what way?

Visual Privacy

3. W  hen using a bathroom, what are the most important conditions for your comfort.


Options were given for the third question and were ranked according to importance. We received about 60 responses and have summarized the primary toilet room concerns here.


6.8% Other

Cleanliness was the greatest concern, with over 50% of the office listing it as the foremost priority. Though not entirely a spatial problem, cleanliness can be addressed in the way that partitions are constructed and how accessible stalls are for cleaning.


Acoustic Privacy

63.6% of respondents ranked Visual Privacy in their top 2 concerns. (94.5% ranked it in their top 4) Odor was identified as an important bathroom concern, but is not solved so much by spatial solutions as by ventilation strategies. Other factors were also identified, such as lighting, mirror availability, and decor.



60% ranked Acoustic Privacy as a moderate (3 or 4 ranking) concern. Roominess and Number of Users ranked primarily as the 5 and 6 concerns. Although these scored low in the FXCollaborative office survey, these are heavily influenced by spatial design decisions.


Number of Users



Bathrooms for Humans

With all due reverence to linguists, one could convincingly argue that MerriamWebster does not effectively define privacy. At least not for the purposes of a public toilet. In order to access the private stall in a public toilet room, one must traverse a space that is under the surveillance of the public. One could argue that a new term must be defined, one that ties together the duality of private acts within a public space. As Alexander Kira discusses in his seminal work, The Bathroom, a shift in bathing practices over time mirrors the shift in our expectations of privacy when entering and using a toilet room. During the time of the Roman Empire, bathing was considered a public activity, often performed in a communal facility. This practice continued on through the 18th century, when these public baths began to organize into neighborhood baths. Eventually family bathing occurred weekly within the home, which shifted into the more frequent private showers or baths that are common in American households today.26 Similar shifts in expectations of privacy can be traced through the development of the toilet room or privy. Although privacy is provided while actually performing the functions of elimination, there is little that can be done about a person announcing their need to perform those activities. To some degree, we are all announcing to the world that we must perform the act of elimination each time we walk in the door of a bathroom.

In The Bathroom, Kira differentiates among what he describes as “Degrees of Privacy.� Specifically, Kira established three major categories: privacy of being heard but not seen; privacy of not being seen or heard; and privacy of not being seen, heard, or sensed. It is fair to say that third category is effectively being invisible to other users of the toilet room, and would likely be the preference of most people if they had a choice. As Kira explains it, compartmentalization is one of the most efficient and effective methods of achieving privacy, and it inherently accommodates the variations in expectations of privacy.27 In studying bathroom plans, we can identify how different configurations and compartmentalization techniques achieve these levels of privacy. A single-user toilet room would clearly achieve the third level of privacy, with complete isolation from other toilet room users. In a multi-user facility, floor-to-ceiling partitions might nearly accommodate this maximum privacy. A toilet room with minimal partialheight partitions allows a person to be heard but not seen, and the varied heights would accommodate differing acoustic preferences and levels of visual privacy. The desire for increased privacy in the multi-user toilet room is universal. One of the clearest ways to achieve increased privacy, in both single-gender and all-gender toilet rooms is to use full-height doors and full-height

26 Alexander Kira, The Bathroom (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977). 27 Ibid.

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Partition Height

Minimal Privacy—Not Seen

Partition Height

Moderate Privacy—Not Seen, Not Heard

Partition Height

Maximum Privacy—Not Seen, Not Heard, Not Sensed

Figure 6

Kira’s “Degrees of Privacy” illustrated with standard partition heights.

partitions between toilet stalls. In attempting to make a case for the spatial and cost efficiencies of allgender bathroom spaces, we began to investigate the cost differentials between full-height and partial height partitions, to see if we could

determine a general rule of thumb or cost adjustment factor. We hoped to discover a supporting argument for full-height partitions. However, conversations with a number of consultants led to an inconclusive ability to compare partition types



Bathrooms for Humans

based specifically upon height. Partition height is one of the less influential cost drivers; material choice and assembly type tend to be the controlling factors. One consultant stated that she would feel comfortable estimating a minimum cost increase of 35%, with a maximum upwards of 75%. This conservative and hesitant estimation of cost increase underscores the volatility of pricing, and the importance of considering all options when specifying toilet partitions. Arguments for full-height partitions, implying floor-to-ceiling stall-dividing partitions and doors, are undercut, literally, by the need for ADA accessible stalls. These require toe space clearance under the partition.28 Cleaning is also more efficient when the dividing partitions are not flush with the finished floor, though some newer full-height designs do cleverly address the cleaning issue. Furthermore, electrical and fire safety code requirements can influence the trend towards partial height partitions. When partitions extend from floor to ceiling, effectively converting the toilet compartments into rooms, the building code requires that each compartment be fitted with a sprinkler head and mechanical vent to ensure complete coverage in a fully sprinklered building.29 The added coordination and labor to fit each stall with its own sprinkler head and smoke detector is often a major cost consideration when determining partition heights, according to one bathroom partition consultant.

Bathrooms, by Law Section 403.2 of the International Plumbing Code specifies the requirement for Separate Facilities. The ruling dictates, simply: Where plumbing fixtures are required, separate facilities shall be provided for each sex. The ruling is specific and straightforward, with exceptions given for niche considerations, primarily for low-occupancy building uses.30 This requirement, beyond any social and political opposition, is one of the primary reasons that all-gender toilet room designs are difficult to execute. Section 403.2, when it was first introduced in the building code sometime in the early 20th century, was likely viewed as a landmark addition. The requirement for equal facilities for the sexes served to further legitimize women’s place in society. The observations of the current limitations of Section 403.2 are not meant to negate or ignore the significance of this mandate. Rather, perhaps it’s time for this Section of the Plumbing Code to be reconsidered and rewritten entirely. Signage is required to designate the gender specificity of a toilet room; until recently this included single-user toilet rooms that, other than the signage designation, appeared to be appropriate for all genders. In a recent update to the Plumbing Code, Section 403.1.2 allows fixtures within single-occupancy toilet rooms to be counted towards the overall

28 “Section 304: Turning Space“, 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. (Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., 2010). 29 “Section 903.3.1.1 NFPA 13 Sprinkler Systems”, 2014 New York City Building Code. (New York City Department of Buildings, New York, NY, 2014). 30 “Section 403.2, Separate Facilities“. 2015 IPC, International Plumbing Code. (International Plumbing Code Council, 2014).

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tally. These two Sections are the first steps that the code has taken to allow for the intentional creation of all-gender spaces.32

On Safety

In social and political discourse, notions of privacy in the toilet room have become inextricably intertwined with those of safety. At the height of homophobia, partition heights were reduced so that those using the toilet could be surveilled. This focus on preventing any untoward goings-on in the space of the toilet room reduced the general expectations of privacy.31 When HERO was being reconsidered in Houston in 2015, the opposition’s slogan of “No Men in the Women’s Room” echoed the resistance to the Equal Rights Amendment and brought truth to Gore Vidal’s observation that arguing for the safety of women in the bathroom would be the greatest tool in opposing any efforts for equal rights. Regardless of toilet room signage, sexual assault is illegal. And the truth of it is, a sign will not stop crimes.

fixture count, though the fixture must still be designated for either men or women, specifically in assembly or mercantile uses. This ruling, paired with an update included in Section 403.2.1, allows single-occupancy toilets to have gender non-specific signage, even if the fixtures are being counted towards a gender-specific

When Sections 402 and 403 were added to the building code, they equated to legally mandated inclusion for women. There are ways that the building code can and should evolve to provide guidelines for access, safety, and inclusion for all of us. David Collins, a champion of genderinclusive building code amendments, played a significant role in ensuring that Section 403.1.2 was approved. As he explains it, the interpretation of “single-occupancy toilet rooms” is still being debated. As the code is currently written, it is possible to argue the following: If code regulations require that you provide 6 fixtures for men, and 8 fixtures for women, you may achieve codecompliance by providing 14 singleoccupancy toilet rooms. And based upon Section 403.2.1, these singleoccupancy toilet rooms can have gender-nonspecific signage. But the question remains: What constitutes a single-occupancy toilet room?33 This definition is significant spatially because of ADA Section 213.2 Exception 3, which requires that in a cluster of single-user toilet rooms, 50% must comply ADA guidelines. Thus, the use of Section 403.1.2 to bypass the requirement for separate facilities is limited to situations in which space is abundant.34, 35

31 Olga Gershenson and Barbara Penner, Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009). 32 “Section 403.1.2, Family or Assisted-Use Toilet and Bath Fixtures“ and “Section 403.2.1, Family or Assisted-Use Toilet Facilities Serving as Separate Facilities.” 2015 IPC, International Plumbing Code. (International Plumbing Code Council, 2014). 33 David Collins , FAIA, in conversation with the author, November 2017. 34 “Section 213: Toilet Facilities and Bathing Facilities“, 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. (Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., 2010). 35 T he ADA guidelines further define a cluster to be a “group of toilet rooms proximate to one another, generally adjacent to or within sight of one another.”



Bathrooms for Humans

Efforts have also been made to address “potty parity,” which is the phrase used to describe the assurance that women and men have equal access to restrooms, with “equal” defined not by fixture count but by the amount of time that one must wait to access a fixture. Introduced in 1987 with California’s Restroom Equity Act36, the issue was again addressed in 1994 when Wisconsin amended its Commercial Building Code to require more fixtures for women.37 In 2004, Soldier’s Field in Chicago made an attempt to address potty parity by introducing more women’s rooms. The result was shorter wait times for women, but the efforts also introduced a wait time for men, when previously no wait time had existed. The solution, after a great deal of complaining and uproar, was to convert five women’s rooms into men’s rooms. The result? Double the wait time for women.38 When discussing what efficiencies might be achieved by allowing fixtures to be accessed by either gender, we found an interesting conundrum. Currently, the baseline assumption is that buildings are occupied by 50% women and 50% men. Logically, this assumption, paired with an accompanying calculation for elimination needs based on scientific study, would inform the fixture count requirements for the

different use types. This, however, does not seem to be the case. Although the differing gender-specific fixture counts cement the separation of the facilities, it is not clear to anyone that we spoke with how these fixture count differentials were originally calculated. In furthering our argument for the spatial and cost efficiencies achieved by all-gender toilet rooms, we found that we were unable to formulate a definitive argument. We hope that as we move towards all-gender facilities, we and others are able to reevaluate the requirements that the building code mandates and update and improve their adequacy. The ability of single-occupancy toilet rooms to function as gender non-specific compartments, even though the fixture contained within satisfies a gendered fixture count, echoes the guidelines for ADA conformity in existing buildings where alteration is technically infeasible. Section 213 states that in that situation, a “single unisex toilet room in the same area on the same floor is appropriate.” 39 The section then goes on to define what it means for that toilet room to be proximate to the non-ADA compliant facilities. Reading these regulations, and considering the solutions that gender non-conforming individuals are being offered for toilet room access, reveals nearly identical solutions to very different problems. Gender

36 Maya Rhodan. “Bathroom Bills: How American Bathrooms Got Separated by Sex.” Time Magazine. Last modified May 16, 2016. http://time.com/4337761/history-sexsegregated-bathrooms/. 37 Sarah Karon. “Potty politics: Why women are pissed off about restrooms.” CURB Magazine. Last modified October 19, 2010. https://curbarchive.journalism.wisc.edu/2010/10/19/ potty-politics/index.html. 38 “T he Everyday Sexism of Women Waiting in Public Toilet Lines.” Time Magazine. Last Modified January 5, 2015. http://time.com/3653871/womens-bathroom-lines-sexistpotty-parity/. 39 “Section 213: Toilet Facilities and Bathing Facilities“, 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. (Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., 2010).

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is not a physical disability. Instead of ADA regulation single-user toilet rooms being appropriately reserved for those who have true need for the physical configuration of the space, these rooms are becoming a catch-all for any individual who does not fit our established social expectations of an able-bodied, gender-conforming person. The expansion of ADA to include genderidentity accommodations, as seems to be implied in a recent article in Architectural Products, is not a solution to the question of allgender toilet spaces.40 It is certainly an effective solution for ensuring the accessibility to toilet rooms by providing guidelines and regulations for their physical characteristics, but it does not solve the gender problem.

Plumbing Fixtures, By Gender When we began this research, one of the first questions we asked concerned urinals and the importance of their existence. We had conversations amongst ourselves and with other designers and our friends. Then, we came across an article in which a woman described how she was able to make the toilet rooms in her office all-gender. In order to do this, she blocked off the urinal, definitively making it unusable. Reportedly, this allowed women to feel more comfortable entering the room, and eliminated the only gendered fixture in the space. Because this solution involved reducing the fixture count of the office space

Inclusive Design

Throughout this study we have focused on the importance of inclusivity and accessibility, particularly since we believe access to a toilet qualifies as a basic human need. The British Standards Institution defines “inclusive design” as: The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible...without the need for special adaptation or specialized design. One could argue that the specification of single-user or family facilities as the most appropriate space for gender-nonconforming individuals constitutes a special adaptation or specialized design, disqualifying that solution as inclusive design.

and potentially compromising code compliance, this is clearly not a solution.41 Reading that article further amplified our own doubt of the importance of urinals to a functioning toilet room. Statistically, urinals serve less than half of the population, and they function for only the act of urination. If pitted against a toilet in a competition of efficiency and versatility, the urinal is the clear loser. Although we heard testimony from a number of men that urinals allow for speedier elimination, we have heard an equal amount of testimony that men find them to be stressful and that they lead to slippery floors and unsanitary conditions. Considering the use or removal of urinals is where an understanding of fixture counts becomes particularly crucial. In determining the spatial adjustments that might be achieved by an all-gender bathroom, we began to wonder if it is possible to reduce the total number of fixtures. Because the occupancy assumptions define the gender divide

40 “T he Future is Universal”. Architectural Products. Last Modified December 12, 2017. 41 Because of the potential legal ramifications, we have assumed that this suggested solution was made in jest and have chosen to not cite the source.



Bathrooms for Humans

as 50/50, perhaps the total fixture count would not be reduced. But maybe it could be. And in any case, the utilization of the fixtures, whether or not the fixture count stays the same, would inherently be more efficient because all people could access all fixtures. For example, a commercial office building is constructed with the 50/50 gender split assumption applied to its population. If that office building is then occupied by a company that is primarily female, the fixtures in the men’s rooms are severely under-utilized, while the fixtures in the women’s rooms will be over-utilized. Providing a configuration and accessibility standard in which all people can access all fixtures means that fixtures will be used in the most efficient manner possible. However, this aspect of our argument has yet to be mathematically proven, as we are unable to elicit information that would inform an all-gender fixture count. We also sought to understand the spatial implications of urinals. The American Society of Plumbing Engineers lists the requirements for clear space between and around fixtures that are not ADA-compliant fixtures. A water closet must be 30” wide and 60” deep. A urinal, by comparison, must also be 30” wide, but only 21” deep. 42 The smaller depth requirement for urinals, as the design need not account for a door and door swing and only has to accommodate a standing

person, means that a urinal requires approximately one-third of the square footage required for a water closet. While this provides a net spatial advantage, it is significant to note that the advantage lies only in the depth of the clear space. Urinals provide no spatial advantage in the width between fixtures. In many of the examples that we studied from our own projects, which were primarily drawn from our commercial work (Figure 8), the configuration of the toilet rooms was linear, such that the depth difference between the two fixture types offered no spatial advantage. And further, in most use cases, only half of the required fixtures may be achieved with urinals.43 This means that in some area of a men’s toilet room, water closets that conform to a 30” x 60” dimension must still be provided.44

People Who Pee In an effort to present an objective analysis, we have considered our design clients according to expressed toilet room expectations, rather than based on who the people are. We could spend pages enumerating the types of user groups we might encounter. But the truth is, our user base is all people, regardless of personal requirement or selfpresentation. Public facilities, such as parks and libraries, might encounter a wider range of requirements than a commercial office building. However, designing for inclusion means

42 “Plumbing Fixtures.” American Society of Plumbing Engineers. ASPE.ORG/REadLearnEarn, (April 2013). 43 “Section 419.2, Substitutions for Water Closets“. 2015 IPC, International Plumbing Code. (International Plumbing Code Council, 2014). 44 Section 419.2 of the International Plumbing Code allows that in education and assembly uses, 67% of required fixtures may be achieved by urinals. In all other uses, the replacement allowance remains 50%.

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21” min.

30” min.

60” min.

30” min.

Urinal—4.375 SF

Toilet—12.5 SF

Figure 7

Minimum clear space for water closets and urinals, as stipulated by the ASPE.

designing for all people, whether or not they are an initially anticipated user group. And given the fact that our buildings are designed to last for decades, it would be irresponsible to not consider shifts in demographics and building uses that we are not yet experiencing. In considering our users, we have identified a number of unique needs. There are basic sanitary needs that are user-specific. For example, at any point in time, 25% percent of women globally are menstruating. Toilet compartments should thus accommodate a discreet and sanitary disposal option. In some facilities, the provision of feminine products must also be considered. Parents who must change their babies’ diapers

expect both clean facilities and a sanitary disposal accommodation. Elderly toilet room users might have similar needs for discreet disposal of personal sanitary items. Some users might need to self-catheterize or take medicine throughout the course of the day. The need to be able to accommodate gender-separation for religious and other modesty requirements is certainly a need. For example, a Muslim woman who would like to adjust her hijab must do so is a space that is private from men. Similarly, modesty, genderseparation, and sanitary guidelines exist for Hasidic Jewish people. Lack of privacy can have unfortunate consequences on the act of elimination. Although uneasiness and indignations are valid or clear results of a lack of privacy, the inability to eliminate in the known presence of another is a diagnosable medical condition. Paruresis, known as ‘shy bladder syndrome’, has varying degrees of intensity.45 For the purpose of this study, we have focused primarily on commercial office space in our discussions with stakeholders and in our consideration of code requirements. Our in-office design charrette focused on public space, primarily for purposes of broad speculation. Although restaurants, universities, and museums are oftdescribed pioneers in all-gender toilet room space, the use of the space and the interactions of occupants

45 “What is Paruresis?” Urology Care Foundation. http://www.urologyhealth.org/urologicconditions/paruresis-(urinating-in-public).



Bathrooms for Humans

Figure 8

Much of our toilet room analysis focused on toilet rooms in commercial office buildings. This comparison demonstrates the spatial similarities of the gendered spaces, even when considering the spatial advantages provided by the use of urinals in men’s rooms. In most cases, replacing water closets with urinals did not offer a significant spatial advantage.

Catherine Joseph, Whitney Odell | FXCollaborative






Figure 9

Uses, users, and necessary fixtures.

in those toilet spaces are different than occur in a commercial office space. In a restaurant or museum, the people that you pee next to are strangers. You might meet the person at the sink and mirror as part of the toilet room circulation, but there is very little interaction beyond this temporary proximity. In an office space, however, the people you pee with are those with whom you work, with whom you are fostering

professional relationships, and on whom you depend for professional advancement. As architects, our job requires us to be objective when considering the needs of all users of the spaces we design. We do not judge the hierarchy and legitimacy of any of the expressed or defined needs, but strive to accommodate all, or as many as is possible, in a single solution, through open-minded, conscientious design.



Bathrooms for Humans

Where Design Can Lead As we developed our analysis, we tried to formulate a set of case studies derived from our own designs. We looked to some of our newest projects, which, not surprisingly, are also the most socially progressive. But more than a set of case studies, our conversations elicited the articulation of a developing design process. In a number of recent projects, all-gender toilet rooms have been suggested as a base building design element, particularly in commercial projects, at the strong recommendation of the design lead and Senior Partner, Dan Kaplan. Kaplan and the design teams he works with take the future of commercial office space as their design challenge. The scope of this challenge encompasses all aspects of the use of the building, and his perspective references notions of ambient belonging in the formulation of the design briefs. This includes the toilet rooms. Architecture, particularly the design of spaces that are potentially accessible to all people, reflects the values of our society. It is the physical form of our culture and society. As architects, we have a voice in how those values are represented and constructed. Fundamentally, inclusion reflects the values of our firm. “When we consider and define the design intent for our projects,” said Kaplan, “we want every part of the building or buildings to function as

inclusive space designed for the dignity of all users and occupants. We are committed to designing in a way that celebrates the communities that make our cities so rich and diverse. We know that in order to properly celebrate these communities, we need to push for all-gender toilet rooms.” When describing his conceptualization of all-gender toilet rooms, Kaplan identifies four typologies that are appropriate to consider for commercial office design (Figure 10). There is the Binary toilet room configuration, in which two genderspecific toilet rooms are provided. There is the Binary + Single configuration, in which a single-user facility is provided for those who are uncomfortable or unable to conform. The Multiple Cabinets solution involves all-in-one fixture configurations in which the sink and mirror are included in the same compartment as the toilet. And finally, Common, in which a common sink and mirror area is provided with adequately private stalls. In recent projects, our design teams have begun with the Common configuration. As the design progresses and potential tenants request an option for separate toilet rooms, the Common option transforms to include a common sink area with gender-separated toilet stalls. If a tenant desired an all-gender toilet room, a partition could be removed, creating a single open space.46

46 T hese plans are for a study and were not submitted to the Department of Buildings and did not go through an exhaustive ADA analysis (Figures 11 & 12). We acknowledge that this design does not accommodate Section 213,2, which requires 50% of the single-user toilet compartments to be ADA compliant. (Source: ADA 2010)

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Multiple Cabinets

Binary (+)


Figure 10

A summary of toilet room typologies defined in a study for a commercial office building.

Men’s Toilet Room

Optional Partition

Women’s Toilet Room

Toilet Room

Shared Vestibule


All-Gender Toilet Room 6 toilets—4 lavatories—406 SF

Figure 11

A Common toilet room versus a Binary toilet room.

Gender-Separated Toilet Rooms 5 toilets—1 urinal—6 lavatories—493 SF



Bathrooms for Humans



Men’s Toilet Room Toilet Room Vestibule

Women’s Toilet Room

Shared Vestibule

Men’s Toilet Room Toilet Room Vestibule

Women’s Toilet Room


Women’s Toilet Room

Gender Isolation

Shared Vestibule

Men’s Toilet Room Toilet Room

Gender Declared and Interaction

Opportunity for Maximum Isolation

Shared Vestibule

Figure 12

A brief comparison of all-gender and gender-separated toilet room spaces.

In developing and attempting to implement these designs, our design teams have come up against a number of difficulties, including the building code requirements previously discussed. However, a primary challenge, and one that is more difficult to quantify, is that although the client teams understand the significance of all-gender toilet rooms, there is less comfort as to

how the spaces would function. Are they physically distinct from our standard, gender-binary, toilet rooms? Or is it just a larger version of one of those spaces that everyone is allowed to access? “Furthermore,” Kaplan said, “the more we speak to brokers and leasing folks about these concepts, the more we realize that a majority of the endusers—and their human resources departments—have not developed adequate policies for addressing all-gender toilet room spaces.” But fundamentally, we have begun to consider how these designs would be formulated, and these studies and spatial configurations will certainly be a guide for future FXCollaborative projects.

Transforming the Toilet Room With the research we assembled for this paper, though admittedly not an exhaustive analysis of existing bathroom layouts, and the discussions had with stakeholders of different demographics and social backgrounds, we have begun to reconsider the design process for toilet room facilities. We don’t pretend to believe that we can devise a single, universal design. Every project and each building is unique, requiring a unique solution. Instead, we hope that providing the following overview of our thinking helps to formulate questions and processes for future toilet room designs.

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To start, we have assumed as our baseline parameter the necessity of the toilet. We further adopt the sentiment that toilet room access is a basic human right. Thus, knowing from our previous study that gender is a non-static construct, we eliminate it as a primary design parameter. Instead of beginning with two separated spaces, we instead begin with a total count of toilets and lavatories derived from current code requirements. We then considered the function of the fixtures included in the public toilet room. These are, simply, a toilet, a sink, and a mirror. By many accounts, the sink and mirror may function in tandem. We have chosen to separate the three fixtures entirely, for the specific reason of acknowledging their different purposes. Distinguishing the use of the sink and mirror, and emphasizing the order in which they are accessed becomes important when discussing the configuration of the fixtures and one’s procession through the space. Thinking more specifically about the spatial configuration and circulation of the toilet space led us to consider the organization of the fixtures. Because we have presumed a basic level of privacy, we might refer to the toilet as a toilet compartment. We have further presumed that the toilet compartment contains some type of sanitary disposal, as is already located in a women’s toilet compartment.

Bathrooms Rebooted

In October 2017, FXCollaborative spent an afternoon rethinking expectations of toilet rooms. An internal design charrette, Bathrooms Rebooted presented each team with a different design brief. One team addressed restrooms in airports. Another team studied toilet rooms in a Broadway theater. Two teams considered bathrooms in university buildings. Although the briefs were an idealized situation—i.e., there were no space constraints and ADA was loosely adhered to—the outcome included spatial configurations, and discussions and ideas beyond that. With only a brief introduction to the ideas presented in this paper, questions of privacy, and of procession and of the tools of elimination, emerged.



Bathrooms for Humans





Check/Adjust Hair

Adjust/Put On Makeup

We have identified seven general configurations of these fixtures, and have summarized the function of each configuration (Figure 14). Note that “-“ indicates the fixtures are paired, and “( )” indicates that the fixtures are located in a private compartment. The first configuration is “(toilet-sinkmirror).” In this option, all fixtures are included in a single toilet compartment. Effectively, each compartment functions as a single-user toilet room, and as such would need to be adequately sized for the clearance and spatial allowances required. This configuration also requires that a person who needs to access a sink would inherently occupy a toilet fixture as well, compromising both convenience and fixture efficiency. This configuration, similar to the Multiple Cabinets configuration previously discussed, would satisfy medical needs in which a sink and/or mirror might be necessary. It would also be the most private of the options, but would prohibit the ability of the toilet room to serve as a social space.

Brush Teeth/Check Teeth

Wash Hands


Feminine Needs

Necessary Gender Isolation

Change Clothes

Regain Composure

The “(toilet-mirror) + sink-mirror” configuration, in which the toilet and mirror are located in the toilet compartment and sinks and additional mirrors are accessible outside of the toilet compartment, is effective at addressing the need for genderisolation and privacy at a mirror. However, this requires that a person who needs to address their physical


Taking Medicine

Medical Elimination Needs

Figure 13

Toilet room uses diagrammed according to required fixtures and need for privacy compartment.

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(Toilet-Mirror) + Sink-Mirror

(Toilet) + Sink-Mirror

(Toilet-Sink) + Mirror



( ) private compartment

(Toilet) + Sink + Mirror

(Toilet) + (Toilet) + Sink-Mirror

(Toilet) + Sink-Mirror + Sink-Mirror

Figure 14

Seven general toilet room configurations, based on arrangements of primary fixtures and considerations of possible uses.

appearance in private do so before using the sink. It also requires additional mirrors. The standard configuration is “(toilet) +sink-mirror.” As is typically the case, the toilet fixture is located in a compartment or stall, and the mirror and sink are located together. In this manner, adjustment to physical appearance and cleansing occur in the same place. However, there is no private space for adjusting one’s physical appearance away from the gaze of another. This configuration is similar to the Common configuration previously mentioned. The “(toilet-sink) + mirror” configuration provides accommodation for those who might need to access a sink

in privacy or seclusion, for medical or other needs. It requires that a person who has need for a sink must also occupy a toilet. The “(toilet) + sink + mirror” configuration provides a complete separation of the fixtures and their associated functions and uses. The fixtures can be accessed sequentially or individually as needed. The “(toilet) + (toilet) + sink-mirror” configuration allows for genderseparated toilet compartments with a common sink and mirror. This preserves a level of genderspecific seclusion and privacy, but maintains a social area within the space of the toilet room. This configuration, however, does

spatial separation



Bathrooms for Humans

provide privacy for addressing medical needs or adjusting physical appearance. The final configuration, and the one we find to be most compelling, is “(toilet) + sink-mirror + sink-mirror.” In this configuration, as in others, the toilet compartments provide partitioned privacy from other toilet room users. Providing two sets of sinks-mirror would allow for varying levels of privacy to be accommodated. Locating one set near the entry/exit allows for the more social space to exist in the most visible area of the toilet room. A second set could be located further into the toilet room, allowing for a greater level of privacy, gendered privacy or otherwise, if so desired. The “(toilet) + sink-mirror + sink-mirror” configuration was discussed at length at our in-office toilet room design charrette. From our perspective, this design begins to accommodate all users without exclusion and without overcomplicating the spatial design. It also provides a compelling argument for feasibility, spatial allowance, and code compliance, as it is an adaptation of the existing fixture pairings, rather than a complete reconfiguration. This final fixture configuration also reflects another aspect of toilet room redesign that was a great topic of discussion during the design charrette: how to accommodate differing levels of privacy within

the singular space of the toilet room. In referencing Kira, we learned of his Degrees of Privacy. From our own discussions with toilet room users or stakeholders, we understand that everyone has different tolerances and requirements for privacy. The lesson here is that there is opportunity for spatial separation without segregation and exclusion. By separating the sink-mirror fixture locations, all are included within the toilet room, but the space itself is able to be adapted to the needs of the users as they happen. If gender-isolation is necessary, it can be temporarily achieved in a respectful manner. If it is not, the fixtures function for all genders. The division of fixtures within the singular space of the toilet room will require a greater consideration of circulation patterns within the space. In considering this, we realized that most toilet rooms only have a single door that functions as both entry and exit, leading to a circulation sequence that requires a ‘double-back’ (Figure 15). Airports are the clearest exception to this rule, though there are likely others. Considering the standard single entry/exit plan that requires a double back, processing through a space is a more efficient way of traversing the space. Depending on the ordering of the fixtures, processing through the toilet room might also create a slightly more private environment for elimination, as you do not need

Catherine Joseph, Whitney Odell | FXCollaborative

Figure 15

Typical toilet room design accommodates a single entry/exit point, thus requiring a user to double back through the space to access all fixtures.

to pass the sinks and mirrors, a clear means of surveillance, before entering the toilet compartment. Thus, the sinks and mirrors become the place for interaction among users, rather than overlapping with the more private space of the toilet compartment. Further, if we are to actually consider how to maximize the safety of individuals inside toilet rooms, it makes sense to provide two exits. This idea of processing through a toilet room was brought to the fore during our Bathrooms Rebooted

design charrette. The group tasked with designing a toilet room for an airport created a series of diagrams demonstrating the efficiency. It is significant to note that we have chosen to ignore urinals as baseline toilet room fixtures. We have a number of reasons, some of which we have articulated previously. Another primary reason reflects back on the notion of ambient belonging, and considerations of how the composition and material of the space and, in this instance, plumbing fixtures, provide



Bathrooms for Humans

Figure 16

This toilet paper drawing was created during the Bathrooms Rebooted design charrette as an analysis of the circulation through airport restrooms.

occupants with associations that elicit feelings of inclusion and belonging. If there is an instance in which urinals are the preferred or necessary fixture, perhaps they, and their appropriate and inclusive spatial integration, can be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Dignity, a Matter of Choice When we began this study we hoped we would be able to build a convincing argument—socially, technically, and perhaps financially—for all-gender toilet facilities. We believe that toilet rooms are in need of a fundamental reconsideration, for social, spatial, and efficiency reasons. We believe that by formulating new ways of considering toilet room design, we have been able to present work that will help to guide the development of future toilet room typologies, and perhaps most importantly, the future of building codes. And our work is not finished.

The current demographics of policymakers and designers are a sign of changes that need to occur. This matters, more than we realize. Unless we have designers and legislators with a direct understanding of exclusion and lack of access we will make little progress in moving towards equity and inclusion. We do not have statistics on the number of trans architects in the United States, but one could argue that of the standard gender binary, women, as evidenced by the discussion of potty parity, have the most real experience with lack of access to toilet rooms. Only 19% of the current US Congress is women. And the AIA reports that as of 2014, only 18% of registered architects are women.47 There are many changes that will need to occur before all-gender toilet rooms are the norm. Spatial configuration changes and updates to building and plumbing codes need to occur. Companies and institutions need significant changes in their human resources policies. But in making an effort to extend inclusive design to our toilet rooms, we might more

47 Steve Cimino, “Diversity: Not a ‘women-only problem’”. American Institute of Architects. Last modified May 27, 2016. http://new.aia.org/articles/13086-diversity-not-a-womenonly-problem.

Catherine Joseph, Whitney Odell | FXCollaborative

intentionally consider people who feel that their participation in society is limited on the whole. We might empathize with those who must spend time and brain power considering how to execute a bodily function that is a “no brainer” for most of us. In admitting that we don’t have the answers to all of the questions that we have posed, we are left with one final, fundamental question: What shall we do with our toilet rooms?

This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms. This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and a country, have enacted to protect them—indeed, to protect all of us. And it’s about the founding ideas that have led this country—haltingly but inexorably—in the direction of fairness, inclusion and equality for all Americans. —Attorney General Loretta Lynch M  ay 9, 2016; announcing a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory, North Carolina Department of Public Safety, and the University of North Carolina on the grounds that North Carolina House Bill 2 violated federal civil rights laws.

When it comes to bathrooms, we all have a choice. For some, the choice may be which gendered bathroom facility to enter—a choice that is never straightforward and is often inconsistent. For many, the question is two-fold: How do we view and understand the space of the bathroom and who is allowed to be in what we often feel is our space? We can limit and restrict, using the bathroom to wield power over others in our desire for easily defined social boundaries. Or, we can choose to include, to allow our bathroom spaces to accommodate a fluid definition of users’ genders and an ever changing variety of uses. Architects in particular have a very special choice. If we choose to, we have the agency to push for and enact social change in the spaces we design. The bottom line is: We all must choose.



Bathrooms for Humans

Catherine Joseph, Whitney Odell | FXCollaborative

Catherine is a Junior Architect who works on the technical coordination and documentation of structural and mechanical systems for commercial high-rise buildings. Working with our engineering consultants, she reviews drawings, sketches, and details to compare thresholds and tolerances to balance the designs with the architectural intent. For her, the question of how she approaches design is really a question of how she thinks. Being trained as an engineer first means she’s constantly trying to tie together technical expectations, design logic, and conceptual intent. A hallmark of her career is the ability to combine these two ways of thinking.

As an interior architect, Whitney has a deep appreciation for how people live, work, and play, which complements her comprehensive understanding of design and mechanical and engineering systems. She balances conceptual rigor and a keen spatial sense—faculties she developed in her contemporary art studies and work in the art world—with an ability to anticipate the impact of environment on people’s health, well-being, and state of mind. Whitney’s expertise and approach have been instrumental in realizing an array of office and institutional buildings. Instead of allowing an abstract concept to dictate the design of a working space, she believes good design begins with the thoughtful consideration of what people do on a day-to-day basis—leading to built environments that profoundly enhance the human experience.


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