Feature Article - July/August 2002
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Designing from the Drain Up

Building better restrooms and locker rooms means paying essential attention to cleanliness, attractiveness and ease of maintenance

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Driven by the women's market

Features like this water spa are designed to add a sense of luxury.

Security-conscious designs have been driven by women's spaces, originally to prevent sexual assaults, but have become universal. Similarly, amenity, lighting and space issues in restrooms and locker rooms have been dictated by women's needs as well.

"Women will walk away from a fitness club if they don't think the locker facilities are up to par; that's been shown in a number of articles over the years. Women's needs have led the charge for creature comforts in toilet and locker areas," Dunkelberger says. "Men, it seems, will take what you give them, but if they find out what's in women's locker rooms, they say, 'Hey, we'd like that too.'"

Among the restroom and locker room innovations pioneered by women's needs are comfortable chairs, private changing stalls and, more than anything else, the end of common "gang" showers. Women also require more dry vanity areas, with space for hair dryers, makeup and other personal-care products.

Bathroom lighting improvements have also been driven by women's demands.

"It's one thing to light the space, and another thing to make the users look good," Burcher says. "Whatever type of space, upscale or high-volume, people want to look good; they don't want to look like they just came off a spaceship from an alien planet. Fluorescent light is not forgiving."

DeStefano advocates bringing in natural light however possible, be it through textured or translucent glass or skylights, to improve toilet and locker spaces immeasurably. Additionally, operable windows can improve ventilation as well. Beyond that, a variety of fixtures with different types of lighting for different areas create a more attractive atmosphere that reflects well on user's reflections.

While these features may have been created with women's needs in mind, men enjoy them as well, Dunkelberger is quick to note.

"We can't deny that men have a strong vanity streak," he says, "and we appreciate looking better in good light every bit as much as your average woman."

Children too

Along with women, children's usage of bathrooms and locker rooms is changing bathroom design as well, especially in recreation facilities, which often host small armies of children tramping through.

Diaper changing areas for both men's and women's locker rooms have become a must, and private spaces for nursing mothers are becoming more prevalent as well. And child-sized toilets are becoming increasingly popular in kid-heavy facilities. In addition to making these smaller patrons more comfortable, the mini-sized toilets and urinals can greatly increase sanitation and decrease maintenance by improving the odds for kids whose aim is still evolving.

Trend watch

Beyond the family locker boom, bathrooms and locker rooms (being what they are) don't seem to experience many drastic design trends, but some changes in the way they're used and marketed are on the horizon.

What's Hot and What's Not
Even in the basic world of restrooms and locker rooms, trends come and go. With this handy list of what's hot and what's not, you can decide if your restroom and locker room facilities may need a bit of updating.
Hands-free controlsStandard fixtures, especially with dual controls
Natural lightFluorescent lighting
ColorInstitutional beige
Colored exposed block2-by-2 tile
Solid surface materials for countertopsLaminates
Antimicrobial carpetTerrazzo floors
Textured concretePorcelain tile
CurvesBoxy spaces and corners
Private showersCommunal showers

A few fitness clubs across the country, such as Sports Club LA, are starting to create and market executive-level locker rooms, where patrons who purchase a higher-level membership can enjoy even greater creature comforts than in the standard facilities. Some family-oriented, high-usage facilities, such as YMCAs, also offer upper-tier locker facilities to separate higher-paying health club members from crowded, kid-filled locker areas.

Upscale facilities also have begun featuring locker room concierges as a step beyond a bathroom attendant.

And while they haven't taken hold yet, "runners' locker rooms" may become the next quantum-leap innovation. Sasaki's Dunkelberger says, that while he hasn't seen one applied yet, he has fielded many questions about the possibility of outside-access locker rooms at city facilities, for people who go running during their workday. "You'd have card-key access from outside the building and would have basically just lockers and showers," he explains. A lot of people don't want the whole fitness club scene—they'd rather run outside—but they need a place to clean off."

Even if the Next Great Bathroom Idea takes off, its underlying requirements will remain the same: cleanliness, attractiveness and ease of maintenance. And for facility managers who pay heed to those three basics, quality restrooms and locker rooms are in the can.