Feature Article - March 2021
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All-Access Spaces

Locker Rooms Feature Inclusiveness, Increased Safety

By Deborah Vence

Locker rooms have had plenty of upgrades over the years, offering patrons at recreation facilities more comfortable amenities, more privacy and better-quality features. In recent years, locker room design also has focused on incorporating universal elements, while recognizing the need for more inclusivity and gender-neutral spaces.

Design Trends

"Universal design, inclusivity and 'at your fingertips' are trends patrons look for and expect these days. Inclusivity and 'access for all' can be accommodated with universal single-user rooms or universal multi-stall locker rooms. We like to combine these trends with open designs to enhance safety, allowing more eyes to monitor and self-patrol locker rooms," said Jason Ringdahl, principal at Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture, an architectural design firm in Denver.

One challenge with universal design, he noted, is "appropriate, socially acceptable iconography, since some of society is offended by what is available. Reconsidering iconography and signage will help universal design solutions be as inclusive as possible. We suggest using symbol(s) on signage, which represent the task and/or function of the space instead of the gender-specific user of a space."

While sanitation has been a focus since the pandemic began, "Prior to the pandemic, the societal focus on gender inclusivity continued to drive increased use of cabana-style locker rooms," said Stephen Springs, AIA, Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects, an architectural firm based in Texas.

"The trend toward more upscale fit and finish has been going on for some time, and I would say is no longer a trend, but an expectation," he said.

Including a variety of locker room space amenities is an ongoing movement in locker room design, noted Hannah Evwaraye, AIA, NCARB, project architect at architecture firm Moody Nolan.

A new locker room design, she said, might include "a smaller footprint for an open changing room space or open shower area and include an increased amount of individual changing and shower rooms.

"While adapting family, gender-neutral or cabana-style changing rooms, individual rooms provide added comfort and safety for a wider range of patrons. In recreation settings, facilities are also adding individual dry changing rooms spread throughout the building, creating a more accessible and convenient location," she said.

Donaldo H. Visani, AIA, NCARB, architect and senior principal at architecture design firm OLC (Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative), shared his thoughts on locker room design, noting that some are based on pre-COVID trends.

One trend is locker usage.

"Facilities have seen an increase of members and users who come dressed to work out and do not require full lockers or even use of the changing or showering facilities," Visani said. "There are several reasons for this. They include more people feeling comfortable showering at home, the popularity of casual wear and flexible individual work options."

Another trend he has seen is security lockers. "Users may not be using full lockers as much, but they still need a place to store small items such as keys, wallets, purses and mobile phones," he said. "Providing these security lockers with USB or electrical outlets inside them has proven popular with users."

With electronic locks as a trend, Visani said that "Manufacturers continue to make improvements to the functionality, maintainability and battery life for electronic locks. Many provide keypad controls and network management.

"However," he said that "some provide touchless locks. These use wireless technology that can be opened with a card, a fob or mobile apps. This will increasingly be a go-to option when selecting locks since they are more hygienic and decrease the spread of viruses and bacteria versus other lock types."

Another trend he noted is "dispersed lockering."

"Not all changing (e.g., changing shoes) or locker use requires privacy or a locker room with restrooms and showers," Visani said. "For larger facilities, small groups of lockers throughout and close to activities [are] convenient for users, but also reduce the need for larger locker rooms, which in turn can help reduce construction costs. A small changing room or restroom nearby often suffices to meet any privacy requirements."

Two final design trends include sustainability and inclusiveness.

"Reduction of energy and water consumption continues to be the goal of good locker room design," Visani said. "These goals are driven by good practice and pushed forward by new building standards, stricter codes and technology improvements."

He explained that the reduction of energy use in lighting is addressed primarily by using mostly LED fixtures.

"In addition, a combination of motion sensors, timers and time-of-day color balancing to help with these efforts may be required by building codes," Visani said. "Diffuse daylight (when possible) helps in these efforts, but also provides flattering light and an enhanced experience. Water reduction efforts include touchless on/off controls for plumbing fixtures, shower head flow control, and low-volume flush toilets and waterless urinals."

For inclusiveness, "Family/accessible changing rooms with a shower, toilet and sink are increasingly common and popular, and have been included in recreation facility design to some degree for the last decade or so," he said. "These serve a large portion of the end users' needs that are not met by the traditional men's and women's locker and/or restroom facilities.

"However, national debates surrounding transgender access have spurred recent developments in locker design. Facility design should consider including unisex changing facilities and restrooms," he said. "For example, one solution is to provide individual restroom stalls with adjacent common area sinks and counters in addition to, or in place of, men's and women's bathrooms. A combination of formats will address the widest spectrum of access, privacy and convenience."