Bathrooms are a point of departure to generate a larger conversation about the relationship between environmental design, the human body and social equity.
News media is filled with stories about how the civil liberties of non-compliant bodies—women, blacks, Muslims, immigrants and the transgender community to name a few-- are imperiled this country and around the world. However, while these controversies are often focused on public places like streets, airports, clubs and military compounds, they are rarely covered from a spatial or design perspective. Stalled! argues that these are political issues with spatial ramifications that can be addressed through creative design solutions. Architects and designers must step forward and explore the design consequences of urgent social justice issues with the goal of creating innovative public spaces that allowing differently embodied people to productively mix. Restrooms are but a first step.
Architecture can no longer go it alone. Design activism requires architects and designers to form new ways of working. The model of the heroic genius architect who single-handedly solves the world’s problems, a conception embodied by the Howard Roark, the main character in Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, is an obsolete myth. The creation of equitable public space requires teamwork. Collaborations must be formed that enlist the combined expertise of wide range of experts with different skill sets including lawyers, code consultants, engineers, ecologists, municipal administrators, activists, and scholars, all dedicated to addressing together the challenge of creating inclusive public spaces from different disciplinary viewpoints. All need to be committed to formally and programmatically innovate spatial strategies that will allow individuals of different ages, genders, religions and disabilities to productively interact with one another in public and private space.
However, cross-disciplinary collaboration is easier to achieve in theory than practice. It requires inventing a new methodological process that offers an alternative to the traditional top-down approach wherein the professional architect, as team leader, is accustomed to controlling the conversation of the consultants HE hires. We need to brainstorm effective strategies for listening across difference in a way that incorporates experts with different skill sets, as well as the input of non-compliant bodies based on their actual lived experiences.
How to implement the inclusive design proposals generated by teams of interdisciplinary collaborators? We need to form alliances. The realization of the American with Disabilities Act in 1990 is a useful precedent; this landmark legislation was a battle fought and won through the coordinated efforts of a variety of grassroots organizations. Architects and designers need to join forces with various professional, legal, environmental and human rights groups to champion the creation of safe, equitable and inclusive public spaces that allow a spectrum of embodied people to productively mix. A modest step toward this goal is Stalled!’s initiative to join forces with the AIA and the National Center for Transgender Equality to amend the International Plumbing Code (IPC).