Feature Article - September 2010
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Friendly Amenities

Making Decisions About Restroom Structures

By Richard Zowie

Preferred Amenities

These days, there really is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all restroom. Some restrooms have just the basic necessities while those frequented by families might require diaper-changing stations. Some restrooms are called "unisex" while others prefer the term "family restroom" to indicate it's not only for men or only for women.

Restrooms like this are becoming more and more common, and have both a financial and spatial appeal.

"Unisex means you only need half the restroom," Tharpe said. "There's no need for male and female restrooms, and you save on the cost. Technically, it's also half the maintenance."

Brubaker added a natural trend, from a business standpoint, is to place baby-changing stations in a multi-stall restroom along with family restrooms. Some building codes now even require such a station, depending on the occupancy.

Whereas the popular term has been "unisex," Brubaker believes that term scares people and that "family restroom" or "companion-care restroom" would be better.

"The word 'family' implies you're related," Brubaker explained. "'Companion-care restroom' is the preferred word, and we suggest that this might be optimal."

What are signs of a great restroom? Cleanliness, for one thing, and not just in making sure the toilets and urinals are regularly cleaned and the trash is regularly emptied, but also in the ways the walls are coated and in rounded versus square joints on the walls. These features make restrooms easier to keep clean, Tharpe said.

Coated walls are walls that are better at resisting dirt, while high-gloss walls are also easier to clean. Concrete restrooms, most of them, can be hosed down.

Tharpe also believes a great restroom is one designed to better withstand vandalism. This can still be a problem, particularly with unattended restrooms.

"This is why we see a trend towards stainless-steel fixtures since they don't shatter or break," Tharpe said. "Also heavy-duty grills."

A well-lit facility is also an excellent deterrent to vandalism, as well as a comfort to patrons worried about safety, Brubaker said. Dark restrooms give people a very negative feeling. He also likes facilities that are well ventilated.

High-window restrooms, while somewhat controversial, are also ones Brubaker finds appealing since it gives the restroom user a better sense of security by being aware of what's going on outside.

A facility should make the user feel better leaving than they did upon arrival, Galvin said.

"This obviously requires all the expected fixtures and more than a little cleanliness," she said. "Beyond that it requires something new or unexpected. If a person leaves a bathroom having been pleasantly surprised, the designer has done their job."

For example, if your facilities employ eco-friendly methods of waste disposal, you should let your patrons know. "If the restroom has appropriate signage," Galvin said, "similar to that at the Bronx Zoo, the user leaves more informed and feeling like they've done a good thing by helping to conserve water and contributing to the sustainability effort. They've had a productive trip to the restroom."