Methodology presents the underlying guiding principles that inform our approach to the design of equitable public space, including public restrooms.
Stalled! is developing restroom prototypes that can be implemented in a variety of generic sites, from smaller footprints in institutional buildings like Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., to high volume facilities in airport concourses.
Both proposals, documented in this website, takes the multi-user type as a point of departure, but attempt to takes it one step further by posing an alternative to the dominant spatial paradigm that relies on walls to solve social issues. The bathroom is but one instance of a building type that, like fortresses and prisons, subscribes to the generally accepted belief that by erecting boundaries, architects can create protected precincts that ensure safety through the separation of human bodies from one another. The traditional sex-segregated bathroom, conceived as a series of partitioned enclosures nested inside two large rooms enclosed by walls accomplishes this objective through what Sheila Cavanaugh (2010) terms the “hygienic imagination”: by dividing “clean” public space from the “dirty” realm of the abject body and by separating men from women, able-bodied from disabled, and, in a previous era, members of one “race” from another.
Walls are shared two-sided elements, that by definition belong to both inside and outside and as a consequence, stage contiguity and potentials for porosity as much as they signal separation and containment. This is true of the shared boundary wall, inscribed with dual-entry doors designated for men and women, that assumes the burden of dividing adjacent public and private space as well as for the shared wall that typically allows a back-to-back men’s and women’s room to touch. The same can be said for the series of partitions that subdivide the bathroom interior, ephemeral floating screens, placed between urinals and toilets, that ostensibly create visual privacy between members of the same sex. Walls are symbolically fragile: no matter how thick, they are penetrable and can be breached.
Our design prototypes attempt to jettison these boundary-laden solutions whenever possible. The Roman, Medieval and 18th century American examples discussed in the History chapter of this website indicate that we are well aware that there are historical and cultural precedents that allowed people to eliminate in open single-sex latrines. We look forward to a time when standards about privacy and modesty will become more relaxed as they were and still are in some cultures and will no longer require people to attend to their corporeal needs concealed behind walls. However, our goal is to change the system from within. In deference to prevailing Western social convention and the recommendations of transgender bathroom studies, in our design proposals elimination takes place in private bounded stalls.
Treating the toilet stall as a privacy unit allows us to draw inspiration from another spatial paradigm—the urban plaza. Our schemes dispense with the wall that typically divides public space from private bathroom and instead treats the restroom as a well-defined, clearly marked but semi-open precinct equipped with communal grooming and washing stations that can be located adjacent to lobbies and circulation corridors typically found in standard building types like offices, schools, airports, and shopping malls. In addition, we are in the process of developing schemes that deploy this configuration outdoors. Stalls, treated as freestanding cabanas, can be disposed in plazas alone or in groups, animated by outdoor washing stations that double as fountains. This solution would be in keeping with the initiatives of global cities like Rosario (Argentina), Rotterdam (Netherlands), and Wellington (New Zealand), which are hiring top-notch designers to revive the tradition of making public bathrooms directly accessible from streets, parks, and town squares.
ABOLISHING THE BINARY
Stalled! champions the multi-user solution which gets rid of the traditional configuration of sex-segregated restrooms for a variety of practical, political and ideological reasons, that have been elaborated in different chapters of this website. To reiterate them: No longer will gender non-conforming people who don’t fit the binary have to choose between two unacceptable spatial options that don’t align with their identities. By consolidating a greater number of people in one rather than two rooms, there are more eyes to monitor, reducing risk. Multi-stall not only meets the needs of the trans community, but its benefits also accommodates the needs of a wide range of differently embodied subjects of varying ages, genders, and disabilities, including caregivers of different genders.
In addition, sex-segregated restrooms represent one instance of the way the discipline of architecture reinforces and naturalizes the gender binary, the suspect notion that there are two genders--male and female—determined by anatomy at birth, and which is one of the foundational principles that still organizes our society. Architecture is complicit by making this idea seem inevitable by giving it spatial expression in a room that we inhabit every day of our lives. This is the implicit message drilled into us every time we choose between one of two bathroom doors.
Bathrooms underscore the need to abolish sex-segregated buildings altogether – not only restrooms but dormitories, prisons, fire stations, and military compounds – building types that privilege gender as the reductive definition of human identity and thus dictate the configurations of everyday space. Transgender theory invites us to embrace the open-ended and ever-evolving nature of human subjectivity itself: human identity is shaped by a variety of variables that include but are not limited to gender, body type, disability, age, race, class and religion. For this reason, we need a new set of inclusive criteria that calculates gender as one aspect in a broad field of factors that architects consider when they design environments that allow a spectrum of people to assume and express a variety of personal as well as professional identities in both public and private space.
But how to respond to those who still favor sex-segregated restrooms? While the alt-right has been most vocal in its oppositioin to all-gender restrooms, pushback sometimes comes from left-leaning feminist and gay men who mourn the potential loss of sex-segregated restrooms. For some women, the women’s room continues to serve as an exceptional enclave, a safe haven where they can meet and bond in our patriarchal culture in which the built environment is still largely constructed and controlled by men. s Similarly, for some gay men all-gender restrooms signal the demise of yet another historically significant subcultural space of resistance that played a key role in fostering gay male bonding and cruising when discrimination prevented them from congregating in public venues. We are sympathatic with these points of view.
Today meaningful interactions need not be only face-to-face. The design of public spaces, like restrooms, needs to register the impact of how digital culture has opened up new avenues for sub-cultural interactions. Today, queers are just as likely to meet online through social media than in clubs, bars and restrooms.
However, the internet is not a replacement for but a supplement to architectural space. Now more than ever when all the spaces of our daily lives, both the built environment and the virtual world of the internet, are being surveiled and monitored, we need safe spaces where women and gay men and as well as communities of different ethnicities, persuasions and embodiments can congregate in private. In this century they need not be relegated only to restrooms, spaces that out of desperation became havens by being appropriated by the disenfranchised. Instead, we need to invest in the construction of purpose-built affinity rooms that meet these myriad needs.
Identity politics and intersectionality are not competing agendas. At at this moment in history architects need to harness all of the design resources at their disposal, to design secure intimate rooms for affinity group gatherings and expansive precincts that promote the mixing of non-conforming bodies in public space.
INCLUSIVE DESIGN METHODOLOGY: MIXING
A central premise of Stalled! is mixing; space is the common denominator, the physical medium that allows people of all kinds to mingle. An ethical society that breeds respect for human dignity and difference is predicated on the creation of safe and accessible public spaces that foster unscripted and meaningful encounters between non-conforming bodies of all kinds.
But how to pursue this goal without lapsing into a naïve kumbaya mentality? How to reconcile social mixing and human difference? Non-compliant bodies are not all the same: people of different races, genders and disabilities have overlapping but different histories and experiences and as a consequence have different corporeal, social and psychological needs that require architectural accommodation. We must avoid treating race, gender and disability as reductive categories with one-size-fits-all design solutions. For example while discussions of disability tend to focus on people with mobility issues, disability is an umbrella term that encompasses people with a wide variety of physical, sensory and mental impairments that sometime require specific design solutions. Making matters even more complicated is the complex variegated and unstable nature of human identity itself. Many individuals belong to more than one of the categories of non-compliant body that need to be accommodated in restrooms. A black trans man’s experience of space is different from that of a white lesbian woman.
The challenge of designing environments that register the affinities and differences of differently constituted embodied people requires us to invent a design methodology that cuts across race, gender and disability. Our first step at this endeavor involves researching the design consequences of the specific needs of user groups categorized by age, gender, and disability, and then finding creative solutions that could be shared between them. Three factors guided the design decisions that shape the two design prototypes documented in this website for Gallaudet University and a prototypical airport. First, creating spaces that will promote physical and psychological well-being to counteract the subjective feelings about abjection, shame, privacy and propriety that bathrooms evoke in users. Second, integrating interactive fixtures and technologies that conserve water and are easy to handle for those with manual disabilities. Third, devising way-finding that uses color, texture, and dramatic lighting in lieu of signage as devices to assist people with physical and sensory disabilities to navigate through public space.
CREATIVITY: FORM AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Politics and formal invention are interdependent, not mutually exclusive. Both inform what we make and how we make. Designers must assume responsibility for addressing the spatial consequences of urgent social justice issues at a time when the civil liberties of people in America and around the world are in peril.
Two decades ago, the AIDS crisis and queer studies spawned architectural projects that borrowed insider architectural tropes addressed to a gay, largely male subculture. Today the social justice issues we face have changed with national and global politics, posing new and different challenges for the design community, including but not limited to public restrooms. Now that gay men and women have gradually assumed greater acceptance and visibility and agency to effect social change, designers need to shift priorities and champion the interests of those previously overlooked and marginalized members of the LBGTQ community, like transgender individuals. At the same time we need to expand our purview, to include people of color and the disabled.
Inclusive design has the potential to yield formal invention. Over the past 20 years, progressive architects have often ventured outside our discipline, mining fields like fractal geometry, biotech, and parametrics to generate radical formal propositions that foster indeterminacy. Transgender studies invite us to embrace multiplicity: the open-ended and ever-evolving nature of human subjectivity. But it does so through a methodology that interrogates our discipline from within by appropriating and ultimately transforming the architectural codes manifested in familiar programmatic types and building materials laden with cultural connotations that work in conjunction with other cultural discourses to enable the performance of human subjectivity.
Addressing the needs of non-compliant bodies promises to be a catalyst for creativity and to allow designers working in interdisciplinary teams to generate unforeseen formal solutions that have potential to transform how all of us experience the built environment. In the process of discovering creative design solutions that match the needs of the non-compliant bodies, we can change social awareness: accessible public spaces that foster mixing will breed tolerance and respect for human dignity and difference.