Public bathrooms are spaces of regulation and negotiation between what our bodies need to discard, the identities and representations we align to, and the institutional and power structures that manage social conduct in public spaces. Historically, public bathroom design has focused on developing a design that prioritizes a minimum standard. Meaning, that designs tend to favor the proposals that answer to the needs of users whose bodies align with hegemonic perceptions of gender, body shapes and capabilities.
With our research, we engage in a deconstructive reflection and a public pedagogy project that as Joel Sanders writes, “rather than blindly accept design guidelines as objective functional requirements, [our design] calls into question the architectural typologies and ergonomic standards that govern architectural practice. [These] are contingent social contracts that transmit dominant and often problematic conceptions about what society considers “normal” and “deviant” bodies.” (Joel Sanders)
Universal bathrooms, mix-bathrooms, gender-neutral, non-gender bathrooms, and family bathrooms have been some of the new labels for initiatives that want to re-think how public restrooms impose hegemonic representations.
All over the world, this has been a trend, however, the majority of these initiatives remain superficial and do not contest what is defined as ‘normal’ and ‘marginal’. A critical aspect of our project is to question the design canons that have remained as guiding principles. Public spaces are political, and public bathrooms are extremely particular as these are places where the public and the private tangibly intersect, our proposal doesn't aim only to recognize diversities but to break with the overpowering notions that there is a ‘normal’ and a ‘margin’, only when we see each body and identity as equal we can start a dialogue about inclusion.
Designing inclusive bathrooms by constant collaboration with users and local communities is an opportunity to endeavor in a community-based reflection that challenges the traditional frameworks for design and public space regulation that have shaped how we manage - the not so talked about - body’s waste.
Inclusive Bathrooms at the National University of Mexico - Faculty of Sciences
This proposal was our first approach to bathrooms’ design, it developed in response to the call for projects from the National Diversities Laboratory at UNAM the design and research earned the 1st place.
PROJECT DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY
We approached the stages of research, design and consolidation of the proposal through an iterative process that brings together theory and practice to reach conclusions as a community-building process.
The development of our project was divided into six stages. We conducted activities in the different stages of the project’s development which includes planning, research, validation and consolidation of the proposal.
The diagram shows the activities conducted per stage.
+ Collaborative Creative Research
The workshops iterate from individual to collective reflections about specific experiences in public and private places. The participants address collectively key concepts such as: what makes a space a place, what experiences or actions do they understand as inclusive or exclusive, and what is public and private. Moreover, hygiene and body waste personal practices are shared, we believe this is vital as going to the bathroom tends to be a taboo topic - particularly between different identities and ages - it’s hidden (al fondo a la derecha) and enveloped with shame. The activities vary from open discussions, creative writing, collective poem-writing, acting and improvisation of specific scenarios, these activities are balanced so everyone is motivated to participate. The activities were created informed by diverse methodologies and practices such as creative facilitation, design thinking, and collaborative design, creative writing and performance.
+ Environmental Regeneration
The design proposal sees Nature as another user of the space therefore we actively address its needs and preoccupations. Concretely, the bathrooms promote a constant awareness of the use of resources, from toilet paper which is a scarce commodity at the University - usually wrapped up in a metal chain - the use of water and soap, to the deep-infrastructure of water pipelines and waste management. The water used for flushing is re-used water, and we included urinals because these use less water. Moreover, the maintenance of the space is vital, we talked and were shown the space by the cleaners, this allowed us to make adaptations like propose a tilted floor and include more drainage along the toilets and sinks to reduce the use of water while cleaning and make the job easier.
+ Dual analysis: infrastructure and affective issues in the space according to user’s diversities.
ORIGINAL SPACE LAYOUT
One of the main problems the site-specific context showed was the insecurity inside bathrooms facilities. There have been numerous incidents regarding discrimination, harassment and assault and there is a panic button in every cubicle. We realised that putting more doors, walls or locks will not make the space safer, but cause more insecurity. Therefore, we determine that our concept was going to be the opening of space to promote collective monitoring, generating flow could be a way to address insecurity that a public bathroom can promote. It was important to completely restructure the configuration of the bathrooms facilities and take advantage of the design opportunities.
The location of the bathroom is between two spaces surrounded by classrooms and laboratories, therefore we used this to create a hallway connecting both spaces and increase flows. We configured the bathroom in terms of privacy levels 1) Private area: The cubicles 2) Semi-private area: Sinks, where we implemented resources such as vegetation and furniture to allow visibility to permeate without full exposure. 3) Public: The hallway.
In terms of furniture, our proposal is focused on the functionality of the furniture inside instead of the people who use it. The proposal is divided into three types of cubicles for different needs such as extra space, handles, urinals, etc. but the user is the one who decides what satisfies the need instead of the furniture dictating if they can use it or not.
CUBICLES WITH DIFFERENT INFRASTRUCTURE
Utopic Bathrooms: Identities and diversities at the Lancaster School
[suspended due to COVID - 19] this project consists of facilitating workshops with students at the Lancaster School in Mexico City to discuss the Right to Identity and Access to Infrastructures through the imaginaries of an utopian bathroom guided by the concept of inclusion. The project is also envisaged by the Secretary of Education (High-School level) to be implemented within the curriculum for the upcoming cycle.