As architects we design bathrooms: men’s rooms, women’s rooms, and handicap restrooms. During the programming phase our clients are going to start asking for gender-neutral bathrooms as well. A recent article in The Architects Newspaper, “Gender-binary restrooms: A social problem with a design solution?,” states that architects and designers need to make a choice of “whether they wish to perpetuate inequality through their designs or advocate for a change.” We have to follow and design as per the appropriate building codes and any design standards the client requires. However, our clients hire us to provide a service. We can lobby our clients all we want, but if they don’t want gender-neutral bathrooms, there is not much we can do. Our hands will be untied only when building codes are changed to reflect changes in society.
The article offers an interesting solution to the problem: design unisex bathrooms with individual toilet rooms rather than partitions—so it does not matter what gender a person identifies with. They can have privacy regardless. The sinks would be lined up as they usually are in gender-specific bathrooms. Makes sense! The article points out that this design configuration is already used in Europe. Unless the building codes change in the U.S., however, architects and designers can make all the noise they want to advocate for “gender equality in architecture,” but it would be up to the clients to make any real change possible.