Carson Design Associates Blog

Reframing the Gender-Neutral Restroom Conversation

AUTHOR: Carson Design Associates - Indy   POST DATE:

Last summer at the AIA Conference on Architecture, the initiative Stalled! officially launched, with a mission to create safe, sustainable and inclusive public restrooms for everyone regardless of age, gender, race religion and disability. Architect Joel Sanders, transgender historian Susan Stryker and legal scholar Terry Kogan created a specific set of guidelines, with the intent of establishing a design research project that provides all of the information and prototypes for creating safe and inclusive restrooms to be used by all.

Leading with Inclusive Design

As interior designers, we believe it is our job to think about how people will experience the spaces we design and how to best optimize those experiences. This means it’s crucial for us to understand social issues and safety concerns that affect all people. As national debates surrounding transgender access to single-sex public bathrooms have grown, many argue that people should be able to choose the bathroom assigned to the gender they identify with, while opponents argue this would cause discomfort for other users.

Stalled! tackles this debate with architecture and design expertise, articulating the need for gender neutral bathrooms and making the design accessible to firms across the nation. While the conversation can be quite controversial, as designers, we can’t ignore how our design work affects the safety and equal treatment of a marginalized part of our population.

Alongside the Stalled! movement, the International Plumbing Code recently shifted its requirements to allow for bathroom signage in bars, restaurants, and coffee shops that support gender-neutral signage by stating that, “Single-user toilet facilities and bathing rooms, and family or assisted-use toilet and bathing rooms shall be identified for use by either sex.”

Moving the Conversation Beyond Gender

The design of gender-neutral bathrooms actually moves the conversation beyond gender and makes public restrooms more accessible for caregivers, mothers who breastfeed, those who need to administer medication or perform religious rites, and people with physical or mental disabilities as well. For example, parents no longer have to be inconvenienced by taking their child of another gender to a public restroom.

The team at Stalled! has three main goals with its new bathroom design:

  1. Developing and perfecting a prototype for retrofit projects;
  2. Producing a standard for new construction;
  3. Advancing the design and availability of freestanding, all-inclusive public bathroom kiosks in the European mold.

An open circulation model encourages crowds to pass casually through a restroom with ease, while the floor-to-ceiling stalls eliminate any openings, and a perimeter around communal washing stations gives the area a feel of the fountains that surround Roman plazas.

Many public buildings around the world have already started to adopt gender-neutral bathrooms. And while the Stalled! Team thinks it’s a good start, they do not believe we are going far enough as a society to address the diverse range of design issues that need to be considered. Joel Sanders, lead architect with the Stalled! movement says, “Stalled! is meant as a catalyst of creativity. It’s a desegregated solution that offers designers a chance to transform public space, activating corridors into lounges. In abolishing the binary, architects can and should move toward a more diverse client model, one that embodies many different user groups.”

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What do you and your business think about this movement toward gender neutral restrooms? Tell us in the comments below.

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