Inclusive Design: Gender-Neutral Restrooms
Good Design has the ability to shape environments, create community, and bring about change; Inclusive Design believes that these components should be provided regardless of race, gender, age, religion, and or disability. As architects continue to explore their role in standardizing inclusive design practices, gender-neutral restrooms have risen to the forefront of the movement, prioritizing safe, inclusive restrooms for all.
A History of Segregation
Scrutinized for alienating and segregating minorities, public restrooms have undergone design changes throughout history. While laws prohibiting discrimination, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, changed the standardized design of public restrooms in the United Sates, further updates need to be made to create more inclusive designs.
Today, architects work to standardize inclusive design in public restrooms, moving away from the standard gender-segregated restroom towards gender-neutral layouts. Initiatives, such as the cross-disciplinary project Stalled! designed by Seb Choe, Joel Sanders, Susan Stryker, and Terry Kogan, look to educate the design community on the social inequities of the current public restroom and present design alternatives that provide everyone with an equal and safe restroom. Stalled! highlights benefits of the multi-user, gender-neutral restroom, such as the increased level of privacy provided by the fully enclosed restroom stall and the increased security of an open, well monitored, washing zone. Through these gradients of privacy Stalled! showcases their kit of parts to inclusive public restroom design, and communicates the shortcomings of the more common separated, single-user restroom that segregates non-conforming users.
One of the largest obstacles multi-user, gender-neutral public restrooms face is being code compliant. While the 2022 code has design specifications for gender-neutral restrooms, municipalities can pick and choose what new sections they want to adopt. Variations in how the code is interpreted and regulated can often lead to confusion. Vigilance and education will be imperative over the coming years to ensure code compliant equal access is provided.
Call to Action
While initiatives like Stalled! push to educate designers on the importance of inclusive design and social inequity currently found in public space, it is up to every architect to discuss this call to action with their clients. Making the decision to pursue an inclusive design approach showcases a commitment to equality and safe access to public space. A recent example that highlights this commitment to inclusive design can be found in the current redesign of Starbucks stores throughout the United States. Starbucks took an early stance in support of gender-neutral restrooms, showing their employees and customers that they value inclusion and diversity through their design choices.