As a door company, we’re no stranger to the fact that people love their privacy. Doors are, of course, necessary accessories to buildings and houses in need of protection from outside elements, but they’re also some of the best tools for ensuring complete security in an otherwise open space.
While it’s true that the design aesthetic for many public spaces and office buildings is transforming to a much more open, community-centered layout, this sort of configuration doesn’t work for every space. Enhancing community closeness can be a good thing, especially in public places--just not in the public space we all use most frequently throughout our day-to-day routine.
You guessed it--the public restroom.
Ever since public restrooms were popularly gender divided in the late nineteenth century, privacy has been a major concern in terms of where and how people answer nature’s most pressing call. Nowadays, with controversial bathroom bills popping up across the country and the discretion of the public restroom being thrust into the forefront of the media spotlight, it’s become more important than ever to address the dialogue surrounding privacy, public restrooms, and the individual.
It’s no secret that the psychology behind using public restrooms is strong and affects many people. While, for most, the act of using the restroom within ear and nose shot of other people generates feelings of awkwardness or momentary shame, for some, the aversion to taking care of business (so to speak) in the same vicinity as others is crippling enough to lead to planning an entire day around simply going to the bathroom. In really extreme cases, it can fuel agoraphobia.
In a similar vein, public restrooms are sources of anxiety for many people who don’t feel safe making themselves so vulnerable in a public place. It’s arguments like this one that have fueled much of the debate against transgender rights in terms of gender divided restrooms. Since going to the bathroom involves vulnerable exposure, the inherent desire to feel safe and secure clouds all other thoughts where public restrooms are concerned.
So, what aspects of a public restroom commonly give way to such fear or dread of using them?
Sure, it’s easy to blame a distaste for the public restroom on basic complaints of uncleanliness, but the question of sanitation is not enough--for the majority of people who have made an argument against public bathrooms, these issues boil down to how bathroom partitions and even (albeit to a lesser degree) urinal screens are designed, installed and manufactured.
If we were all to picture a classic public bathroom set-up in our minds, it would probably involve cheaply produced materials bolted together with wide gaps between door and wall partitions and excessive space from the floor to the bottom of the material. It’s easy to relive the early elementary school bathroom days when kids would peek inside the gaps and under the door and remain constantly paranoid about the same sort of thing happening in adult life (even though, in reality, most people are looking to avoid your business just as much as they’d like that reciprocated).
Easily put, these types of stalls can be anything but private, with the common design actually making it relatively easy to view what’s going on within the stall if not put together properly. While this may not have seemed like much of an issue ten or fifteen years ago, especially with the strict gender binary design of most public restrooms, today’s social climate calls much more attention to these glaring details.
Truth be told, with the way many public restrooms are fashioned these days, it’s no wonder that there are so many people with a strong distaste for them altogether.
The good news is, there are solutions to the looming issue of public bathroom privacy that don’t involve choosing one side over another or ignoring the needs of those who have expressed them; in fact, there are ways to make public restrooms more secure and discrete environments that might, with time and application, even help bridge the current divide.
In order to make this a possibility, it is important to note that, in this circumstance, design reform is the answer. Building owners and contractors who have a large hand in how bathrooms are designed and what types of materials are ordered and installed can make conscious choices to shift toward a more privacy-centered layout, most of the time doing so at a budget-friendly price.
When it comes to reforming the typical design of public restrooms in order to increase privacy, one of the most obvious solutions is a wider implementation of single occupancy bathrooms. Many places with a lot of pedestrian traffic already operate with a similar design, and it is continuously becoming a much more popular--and all-around pleasing--alternative to the standard multi-stall layout.
Not only do single occupancy restrooms eliminate the issue of bathroom shyness, they’re also comfortable solutions for gender division. Individual restrooms are often universally designed, meaning that if a building does have gender-specific single occupant bathrooms, they’re more than likely nearly identical in layout, eliminating the technical need for specification.
While, perhaps, these units appear less cost and space efficient up front, creating completely privatized spaces where individuals do not have to worry about a breach in their privacy will pay for themselves in the long run, especially as the issue of bathroom stall privacy continues to grow more and more heated.
The security that comes with the barrier of a commercial grade door can’t be matched. Our company caters to this very need in commercial buildings and spaces. With a variety of wood, steel, and hollow metal doors to choose from, finding the perfect set and hardware to maximize the security of public restrooms is where the trend in bathroom design is headed, and in this social climate, it’s consistently proven best to be at the forefront of development.
However, there are ways to implement more privacy and improve the restroom climate that don’t involve the spacing and resources necessary to install multiple single occupancy bathrooms. Single occupancy rooms may be a worthy solution in public places with moderate or fluctuating volumes of people, but larger venues like stadiums or arenas that cater to hundreds or thousands at any given time require a set-up more conducive to heavy, frequent traffic. For these environments, full height privacy bathroom stalls make for a great option.
While this design doesn’t offer enclosed bathroom privacy to the extent that individual single occupant bathrooms do, it comes pretty darn close. This option poses a more crowd friendly aesthetic while still granting each restroom-goer the ability to do his or her duty to nature in peace and seclusion. Floor-to- ceiling toilet partitions and full-length, sturdy doors conceal those using the restroom, essentially making this set-up a large collection of smaller individual occupancy bathrooms with one common sink area.
While this concept has been a point of contention in terms of mixed gender bathroom privacy, the major problem doesn’t come from the bathrooms themselves, but the standard toilet partition sizing that doesn’t offer optimal privacy--unlike stalls without any breachable gaps.
Public places are already taking advantage of the benefits that a unisex restroom with completely concealed stalls offer. Chicago-based architect Matt Nardella has begun to address the issues inherent in this sort of scheme by proving that such a design is not only more cost-efficient in terms of construction, but is also much safer (as this design would allow parents of the opposite sex to accompany their young children into the bathroom), cuts down on line inequality between typical male and female bathrooms, and still offers the individual privacy necessary for toilet partitions in a shared space.
True to form, this design offers the best of both solutions while remaining largely controversy-free in terms of safety, privacy and gender inclusion. Full-length partitions might be more expensive at the onset of installation, but the general lack of maintenance issues when compared to standard, cheaper toilet partitions ends up allowing these to pay for themselves over time. Installing a commercial door in place of partition material will ensure greater longevity with much more solid durability against vandalism, general wear-and-tear and uric acid build-up in crowded areas.
Similarly, installing high-grade, sturdy commercial doors in place of cheaper, flimsier partition material will make bathroom patrons less concerned with their own safety, and the safety of others, when tackling one of life’s basic necessities.
As a nation and community of people founded on the idea of equality and the protection of human rights, it’s our responsibility to do everything in our power to keep up with social progress and ensure that every individual feels safe and secure when they need to the most. Implementing simple design changes and improving the quality of construction and installation might seem like small steps toward a larger goal, but can make all the difference where privacy and comfort are concerned.