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Feature Article - February 2005

Battle of the Senses

Designing outdoor restroom structures for cleanliness, comfort and convenience

By Kelli Anderson


What they needed was an outdoor restroom for a picnic area. What they wanted was something beyond the bomb-shelter esthetic—something quick to install, durable and also welcoming. What Deukmejian Wilderness Park in Glendale, Calif., ultimately got was a prefab restroom structure that had all the feel of an upscale, from-scratch design but with the convenience of a one-morning installation and the lower cost that comes with a prefab structure.

"Ours is a more inviting, softer approach," says George Balteria, 16-year park development and project coordinator for the park district of Glendale, Calif. "It's a prefab structure with higher quality interior tile finishes and an exterior rock fascia to blend in with existing structures on-site. All our users like it so far."

These days, outdoor restroom structures are breaking away from their Fulsom Prison blues and are showing their softer side. Although basic concrete block has its place, it's also true there's a desire to make these spaces not only durable but more comfortable and convenient. Furthermore, with the aging baby boomers still on the go, there is an increasing demand for more restrooms, which can now be seen popping up everywhere from playgrounds to remote trails.

TO LOOK GOOD IS TO FEEL GOOD

Comfort is a package deal. For people to be comfortable in a space, everything from cleanliness to security becomes part of the equation with aesthetics also being a vital part of the mix. A restroom doesn't have to be the Taj Mahal—a little attention to detail goes a long way.

"You don't have to be institutional," says Layla Bettar, architect and project manager at the Glendale park district in Glendale, Calif. "We try to be economical and use money in the right place in every bathroom to make it special."

Special touches like decorative banding in tile fields, higher grade stainless-steel fixtures with curved features, varying colors of tile in the floor, good lighting and good air flow are just some of the ways Glendale has taken durability and married it with upscale to achieve a more inviting environment. Even the concrete dividers add to the look with a clear anti-graffiti coating that not only makes them practical (read: vandal-resistant) but brings out the visual interest of imbedded stone and sand. Who knew concrete could be so cool?

More manufactures are hearing the call for "comfort" as evidenced in the softer colors now available in solid plastic products or the softer designs in stainless-steel fixtures. Whether a company specializes in prefab concrete, fiberglass or custom-designed structures, exterior surfaces of restroom buildings are getting more attention. Facades are being made to match existing structures to mimic both styles as well as materials of stone, block, siding or brick.

For Dave Calvert, manager of engineering and construction for the city of Seward, Alaska, making the exterior of the downtown outdoor restroom facility appealing included not only the exterior but the landscaping, as well.

"We wanted the tourists to be attracted to it," Calvert says. "So we designed an 8-foot wooden structure as a covering for a more aesthetic appeal, and we had the area landscaped to look attractive."

Although the structure was prefab, it is not uncommon for a local design and standard design to work hand-in-hand to achieve unique and tailored results.