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Enhanced Privacy For All: Facilitating Conversations for your Inclusive Restroom Design

Our world is constantly changing, and with it comes the evolution of society's expectations towards inclusive restroom designs. Conversations are more common regarding gender identity, preferred pronouns and other similar topics in recent years. These topics can be deeply held, emotionally charged, and impact our daily lives. A prominent place for this discussion to occur is in the design of public restrooms. Institutions and owners of buildings are confronted with decisions related to restroom facilities' design and operation. As society evolves, our restroom environments must adapt and the resulting solutions must be backed with stakeholder consensus through a collaborative process that our team can assist in facilitating.

Evolution of Inclusive Restroom Designs

The discussion surrounding the evolution of restrooms and their inclusivity is not a new conversation. Instead, restroom design has been an ever-evolving topic that directly correlates to overall expectations for equity. In the 1880s, when women began to enter the workforce, separation of restrooms by gender became the new normal.

In addition to separation by gender, over the last century, restrooms have also been designed for separation by race and ability as well. These separations remained in place until advocates demanded change. Before the Americans with Disabilities Act passed, people with disabilities had limited to no options for accessible restrooms in private or public spaces.

Throughout these transitions in history, restroom design has evolved to adjust to societal expectations. These expectations have influenced building codes and pushed institutional policies forward as well.

As we shift to our present-day discussions, there is a growing concern associated with gender-segregated restrooms commonly found in public buildings, as they fail to recognize the full breadth of non-binary gender identity. This non-recognition creates unfair barriers for community members, staff and other stakeholders who don't classify as a specific gender. To mitigate these concerns, more recent designs for restrooms in public facilities seek to accommodate more inclusive restrooms.

These designs create an enhanced sense of privacy and eliminate the segregation of gender. While there are a variety of ways these designs can take shape, it is vital first to understand the factors that can affect which design route is taken. As we continue to transform, it is essential to have discussions with public building designers and managers, analyzing the factors and considerations that go into an adjustment of restroom design. Below are some of the factors we include in our inclusive restroom discussions to ensure the design matches a client’s long-term goals.

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Factors and Considerations Impacting Current Design

As design conversations begin to take shape, we must consider how the feedback we receive can impact the opportunities for inclusive restroom design. These aspects can include the political climate for a community, the cost of implementation and the building codes. By considering these items, we can help our clients navigate the discussion of creating enhanced privacy restrooms.

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Cost of Implementation

While there are several design solutions for inclusive restrooms that we will discuss in the coming sections, it is important to consider these solutions come with increased costs over the “traditional” restroom design and will vary based on solutions. For example, inclusive restroom designs can potentially require additional square footage and additional expenses for lighting, ventilation, security and other features. While adjusting current strategies is a growing concern, it is essential to consider how these solutions will impact the remaining project budget.

Codes

When discussing solutions for a facility, it is essential to work with a firm that understands your facilities and the jurisdiction with which they must comply. Codes regulate all aspects of a design, including fixture counts, lighting, sprinklers, bathroom signage and many other items. In our industry, it is not uncommon to find an institution's desired approach to the design of their restrooms is limited by the current relevant building codes. Codes are changing in response to conversations, though they often lag behind. As a firm, Wold is proactively engaged in understanding building codes, and can assist in determining what results are possible. At the same time, it is also vital to have a positive relationship with authorities having jurisdiction to partner in the process, which we can help facilitate.

In addition, while building code mandates a generally equitable distribution of plumbing fixtures between genders, the occupants of a certain building type may be skewed heavily towards one gender. Building owners may find it easier to incorporate non-gender specific restroom solutions as a way to plan for future code deviations. For some jurisdictions, codes may calculate based on "occupants" rather than gender, which is also important to consider for preferences.

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Community Values

Based on your community and the diverse values it holds, opinions can vary in these conversations. Some communities will openly advocate for inclusive restrooms. Some are just beginning to immerse themselves in these discussions. Whatever the case may be, our team at Wold believes it is essential to have conversations to articulate goals and create solutions to follow. Wherever your community may land on the topic’s spectrum, we’re happy to facilitate those discussions.

The language used to discuss this topic is ever-changing, but one of the least controversial topics is striving to provide additional privacy for all buildings’ users. Terms such as "enhanced privacy" can have many applications and soften many emotions attached to the gender identity conversation. Enhanced privacy also encompasses private moments and does not focus on the concept of gender. Communities may find it easy to agree on designing for privacy, proximity and cleanliness rather than gender-inclusive discussions.

Current Design Solutions

As stated before, once all factors are considered, solutions can be evaluated for inclusive restrooms. There are a variety of inclusive restrooms designs that can enhance privacy, and ultimately the selection depends on client preferences. Among the possible design options are hybrid, single-user and multi-stall.

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From left to right: Hybrid, Single-User, Multi-Stall

Hybrid

One of the simpler solutions that some public buildings have adopted is creating a third gender-neutral option for restrooms in facilities, otherwise known as the hybrid model. While this provides an option for stakeholders who would prefer a gender-neutral selection, it also presents the possibility of stigmatizing individuals who choose that option. Male and female restrooms would still be options, while an additional single-occupancy restroom would also be provided. For example, this third option offers a place for a gender transitioning occupant or a person who would like extra privacy in the restroom. Use caution in the selection of this solution as we believe it is a minor solution to a growing discussion.

Single-User

Another common design solution we see in present-day facilities is eliminating all gender-specific restroom options. Most commonly seen in low-traffic areas, all toilets and sinks are for single occupancy and available to all users. Each restroom is surrounded by floor to ceiling walls and doors with visual locks that indicate if a stall is occupied or vacant. While this option may be effective from an inclusivity standpoint, it can also be a costly and spatially inadequate design solution. Of all three options presented, the single-user will take up the most amount of floor space per toilet.

Multi-Stall

Lastly, this gender-neutral design solution pairs most appropriately with lively, high-traffic areas in public buildings. The multi-user restroom design incorporates single-occupancy private toilets with communal sinks and entrance points. Each single-occupancy bathroom features walls and doors similar to those of a single user restroom design. These design solutions also require proper lighting, ventilation and structural support to align with applicable building codes. While this benefits inclusivity efforts and overall efficiency, it can increase the costs and square footage for plans.

How We Can Help

As a firm, we understand that every community is different, and this topic's viewpoints may vary. We believe that regardless of opinion, it is necessary to have discussions regarding increased privacy in restrooms to ensure all voices are being heard. No two communities are the same, which is why we are here to facilitate the conversation to help align long-term solutions to community goals rather than execute an overarching solution. Beyond the discussions, our team will educate clients on cost and square footage options for enhanced privacy restrooms.

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As societal conversations continue to evolve surrounding enhanced privacy in restrooms, we must take the time to immerse ourselves in these discussions. As a firm, we believe it is necessary to have these discussions with our clients to ensure there is a plan in place for all stakeholders to feel safe and secure. Beyond that, it is essential to consider all factors that will impact inclusive restroom designs, including sizing, cost and other factors. Our team has the expertise to help facilitate these conversations and provide potential price and square footage options for enhanced privacy restrooms. To learn more about how we can assist in the future facilitating discussions surrounding inclusive restroom designs, do not hesitate to reach out to our team at Wold Architects and Engineers (call 1-888-254-6789 or email info@woldae.com).

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