We recently had a request from a client to convert all male and female changing facilities into a gender-neutral layout where both genders can use the same space. 

This brings up the question: What would it take to make a woman feel comfortable sharing restroom and changing facilities with men (or the vice versa)?

The answer is absolute privacy and a strong sense of security:

  • Privacy that creates an intimate shield from visual and noise intrusions, while conducting private functions and provides the ability to present a "public face" before entering shared spaces.
  • Security that instills a sense of safety, especially at times when the facility is mostly vacant. 

Our design consists of restroom and shower cubicles that have floor-to-ceiling walls. Shower cubicles allow a person to shower, change and be fully groomed before leaving. Restroom cubicles with sinks and mirrors allow better hygiene and more private grooming space. Lockers are spread throughout and near cubicles, increasing eyes on the floor. The overall layout avoids hidden corners; all entries to cubicles are clearly visible from shared spaces for increased security.

Each shower cubicle is fitted with:

• Floor-to-ceiling walls and fitted doors
• Shower
• Changing space with bench/stool
• Counter with electrical outlets (for shaving/hair dressing etc.)
• Mirror
• Hanging hooks

Each restroom cubicle is fitted with:

• Floor-to-ceiling walls and fitted doors
• Toilet
• Lavatory
• Mirror
• Electrical outlets

Interestingly we were able to accommodate the same total number of fixtures in the same footprint as a traditional separated layout.

One more hurdle to gender-neutral restrooms and changing facilities is the building code. Currently, the international building code, which is the basis for most jurisdictions' code, requires separate facilities for males and females. There are provisions for family and assisted-use units, but these do not remove the requirement for separate facilities in most applications. Revisions have been proposed for the 2018 version; but, even those do not address full-scale merging of facilities. Individual projects must apply for a waiver from their jurisdictions to get a building permit. Allowing adequate time for this process will be critical to the success of such projects. 

While design goes a long way in solving this challenge, it cannot stand alone. For the privacy and security of all patrons to be met, it is necessary for the facility management to establish and strictly enforce user rules, such as determining what level of undress is acceptable in shared spaces. Bottom line, if we want to create a safe and comfortable environment, users must behave in these shared areas in the same manner as other public spaces in the building.

Senait Kassa, AIA, AICP

Written by Senait Kassa, AIA, AICP

Senait Kassa is in the Architectural department as a Senior Architect. Senait has a Bachelor of Science in Architecture and Urban Planning from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and a Master’s degree in Community Planning from the University of Maryland, College Park. Senait enjoys dealing with design and urban planning issues that affect our living environment and communities. Her commitment to advancing the ‘greater good’ will undoubtedly strengthen Luckett & Farley’s resolve to positively impact the Louisville community. Senait comes to Luckett & Farley from New Orleans. Like most all people from the Big Easy, Senait is a New Orleans Saints fan. She loves new types foods and always orders food that she is not familiar with on the menu.