Restrooms of the Future
As we continue to live through the COVID-19 pandemic and find ways to design our lives around it on a global scale, we know that our world has the potential to look very different for the foreseeable future, in even the smallest details. Restrooms in particular, with an average of ten touches per visit, will need to evolve to fit our new standards.
So, what do restrooms of the future look like?
With a renewed focus on keeping our hands clean, hand washing is now a priority both inside and outside the restroom space. Enter convenience washing, a concept that pushes the area to wash our hands to the forefront and gives people the opportunity for choice, comfort and control—something that is currently severely lacking and will be a key success metric for design in life post-pandemic. The idea focuses on bringing sinks to the main corridor, allowing users to wash their hands whether they use the restroom or not. Sinks in the corridor could include biophilic design at the sink wall. Incorporating a planter and a living wall adjacent to the sinks can provide a health-nourishing connection to nature, making the space not solely utilitarian. With this layout change, washing hands will be done more often and separated as a task not only done while using the restroom. How might this layout be executed to its full potential? By combining it with all-gender restrooms that offer accessibility and inclusivity by design.
COVID-19 can live on a doorknob or sink handle for hours to days. If you think about the number of door handles, toilet handles, soap dispensers, and paper towels that we touch within one use, the number quickly adds up. Convenience washing, the concept of pushing the sinks out into the corridor for better access, also helps to reduce the number of touchpoints inside the restroom as well as encourage more handwashing throughout the day. As part of the convenience washing concept, sensor-triggered dispensers and advanced technology can help to control the spread of disease, giving users peace of mind knowing they’ve avoided a traditionally highly-contaminated area. This minimizes the spread not only of COVID-19 but many other potential germs and viruses. It also reconfigures the “private” face of the restroom and creates another “public” space for low-impact sanitation.
Combining convenience washing with all-gender restrooms can help save money by lowering the number of plumbing fixtures needed and by saving space. Building codes require a specific quantity of plumbing fixtures per gender. Typically, when figuring out how many fixtures to include, architects have to round up to the nearest whole number for each separate gender-specific restroom. All-gender restrooms allow us to do that rounding only once, typically eliminating the need for an additional fixture. All-gender restrooms are also a much more efficient use of space, and can typically fit in a smaller footprint saving between 5-30 square feet per set of restrooms, which is more savings in your pocket. It is also a win-win for the janitorial staff as it cuts down their workload and the need to schedule gender-specific cleaning times.
Inclusivity + Accessibility
In addition to supporting convenience washing, all-gender restrooms are an unprecedented step in the right direction for inclusivity and accessibility. By eliminating sex segregation from the restroom, a space can support a wider, more diverse community, allowing those in the transgender and gender non-conforming community to access facilities without fear of judgment and harassment. Additionally, these restroom concepts show more consideration for ADA-compliance, with easier and wider pathways to navigate and more access for caregivers or aides. Thus, accessibility for those with mobility issues is less of a concern. All-gender restrooms also decrease the wait time for one bathroom versus another. This is the opportunity to go beyond minimum ADA compliance creating more equitable, inclusive design for all.
Now is the Time to Implement Restrooms of the Future
Building onto an already strong design foundation of all-gender restrooms, we are pushing the envelope one step further with convenience washing. Inspired by the advocacy and concept from Stalled!, our goal is to remove the inconvenient, multi-touch process required by current public restrooms and make safer and more accessible convenience washing a reality. Convenience washing will be another important aid in fighting the present global pandemic and the health crises to come. Using innovation and collaborative design, the restrooms of the future are available for implementation today. This progressive design breaks down barriers and eases the burden of past hesitations and enriches the quality of our lives.
About the Authors:
Johnna Keller, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C, LFA, WELL AP is a very ardent and energetic project manager and architect at M+A. As M+A's Sustainability Manager, Johnna leads our company's green building efforts through education, advocacy and design solutions. She's full of creativity and is passionate about regenerative design and approaches the built environment as a foundation for well-being, and posits climate change as a social justice issue.
Cameron Guthrie, Associate AIA is a Project Coordinator in the Commercial studio in the Columbus office. With a special interest in Sustainability, his future-forward ideas and team player attitude are an integral part of the firm's culture.
Both Cameron and Johnna are members of the Sustainability Team at M+A Architects, whose mission is to make human and environmental health a key part of our office culture and extend that throughout our practices via three main pathways: education + outreach, sustainable design services, and operations.