The state of our public restrooms is a subject that
can be embarrassing to talk about, yet is of great importance to
each of us and to American society and culture as a whole. Proof
of this importance can be gleamed from a national survey of 12,500
Americans taken by IKEA, the Swedish furniture retailer. The survey
dealt with reasons for working at home. "By a wide majority, the
12,500 respondents' minds are firmly stuck in the office toilet:
Sixty-eight percent listed the appeal of their private privy as
the main attraction of working at home, citing everything from dissatisfaction
with the office brand of toilet tissue to social discomfort over
communal restroom sound effects."
The issues are many, ranging from Sanitation to Mental
Health, but there is little doubt that the state of our public restrooms
is on the minds of many. This paper will attempt to explore the
problems and their effect on us individually and as a Society.
Restrooms as an Indication of Culture
The following is taken from the Korean "Vision for
"The...structure of public restrooms helps us guess
their architectural aspect and hygienic level in terms of applied
science. In the perspective of the facility, the degree to how much
restroom design considers neglected people like the disabled, the
weak and foreigners tells us the level of human rights of the given
country. The users' manners and etiquettes are the slice of the
people's morality and the spiritual culture of that country. Managing
restrooms to keep them pleasant and convenient can be valued high
since it indicates the given nation's high level of hygiene administration."
Although American restrooms often have a decent level
of sanitation and basic construction, the lack of privacy and other
amenities can have a negative effect on the users and on our culture
as a whole. As an example, take this comment from a European who
visited the US.
"I just got back from a two week-vacation in the
US and what a difference there is between Europe and the US considering
restrooms!! Your stalls are just so...OPEN!! Here, stalls are completely
closed rooms just like your bathroom at home. If there was someone
in the next stall in your country. I couldn't go...I could see his
feet while he was sitting in the toilet!! Have your authorities
ever heard of PRIVACY?!?! Is it some kind of cutting of costs not
to build respectable bathrooms or something??"
This visitor received a bad impression of our country
from these experiences. It can be assumed that many other Europeans
have similar experiences, although there are very few forums for
lodging such complaints.
American cities have a reputation as difficult places
to find public facilities. New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and
many others have very few clean and well designed restrooms to service
their millions of visitors and residents. This is shameful in an
advanced and civilized country such as the USA. Perhaps capitalism
has run amok when it's easy to buy everything under the sun, but
difficult to heed the call of nature. Surely we must take action
and bring together interested parties in order to improve our restroom
Poor Restroom Design Causes Lifelong Problems
It is well established that School toilets can be
places where bullying starts. This unfortunate introduction to the
perils of public restrooms has caused problems for many mild mannered
schoolchildren. Forcing children of vastly different ages and physical
size to use exposed and unsupervised facilities is unwise. Some
boys immediately become a target for bullying merely by entering
a toilet cubicle - the reason being that they are perceived as not
being "manly" due to their failure to stand at the urinal.
The result of this bullying can become lifelong problems
stemming from the feelings of powerlessness and the intrusion of
others into what we are often taught is our personal space. Some
targets of this bullying find it difficult to use public restrooms
even when they are adults. The resulting problems are costly to
their personal lives, our economy and the society.
The major problems with restroom design can be broken
down as follows:
1. Urinals - Lack of privacy and dividers
2. Stalls - lack of sufficient number, and lack of floor to ceiling
privacy in same.
3. Odors - Restrooms should smell and appear clean.
4. Noise Levels - A restroom with piped in music is a much more
comfortable space for the public
1. Stalls - lack of sufficient number, and lack of floor to ceiling
privacy and sound proofing in same.
2. Odors - Restrooms should smell and appear clean.
3. Noise Levels - A restroom with piped in music is a much more
comfortable space for the public
It is beyond the scope of this paper to explore each
of these issues in depth. However, the issue of privacy is one that
seems pervasive throughout the publics' complaints about modern
toilet facilities. For instance, strangers from any and all walks
of life often have to use adjacent urinals, with no protection from
the sounds, sights and even smells which accompany urination. Although
this may seem normal to people conditioned to use these urinals,
many think it strange that they must come into such a close and
personal proximity to complete strangers. The same goes for women
when using relatively open stalls in public toilets. Many women
find the "toilet sounds" distasteful and few would deny that they'd
rather be listening to soft music or some other background noise.
In Japan, this problem has been solved by installing push button
electronic noisemakers inside the womens room stalls. These devices
make the sound of a loud flushing toilet when pressed. Formerly,
Japanese women were known to flush the toilet as many as three times
to provide covering sounds, resulting in a great waste of water.
People appear to have varying tolerances as to how
close they want to be to others, and most public places allow for
these differences. For instance, when waiting in the airport gate,
you can usually find a number of free seats which will allow you
not to sit next to strangers. However, most public restrooms allow
no such privacy. Whether young, old, strong or feeble the public
is forced to carry out their private business in communal restrooms
where their neighbor can even hear them breathe.
It is obvious that the need for privacy in such matters
follows a typical Bell Curve, with a few folks not caring at all
where and how they urinate, the majority caring somewhat for privacy
and a minority at the other end who cannot even use facilities without
extreme privacy. However, the privacy issue is relatively easy to
solve because NO ONE LOSES WHEN BETTER RESTROOM DESIGN PROVIDES
The details of proper restroom design will be discussed
in a future paper, but preliminary studies show that privacy can
be built into restrooms with very little increase in price. In fact,
one design that we have been shown is claimed to cost less than
traditional restroom design.
The modern American restroom renaissance is already underway. Newer
restrooms are being built with improved designs and often offer
increased privacy. The codes in many states now require the availability
of "family" (lockable) single restrooms as an alternative to the
communal restrooms in airports and sports stadiums. Although these
efforts represent a step forward, there remains a lack of information
about the proper design of restrooms to achieve 100% customer satisfaction.
The IPA RIP (Restroom Improvement Project) intends, through extensive
research, to provide such a body of information to the trade and