A transdisciplinary project about designing more inclusive public bathrooms has just been awarded one of two Innovation Awards by the AIA. Stalled!—a project led by architect Joel Sanders, transgender historian Susan Stryker, and legal scholar Terry Kogan—takes on the national controversy surrounding trans individuals’ access to public bathrooms through the lens of design. The timing of the award could not be more apt, with the Trump administration proposing to limit the legal definition of gender as the biological sex assigned at birth, affecting the roughly 1.4 million Americans who identify themselves as trans or as a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth, a status currently protected under civil rights laws.
The AIA Innovation Award recognizes projects that inventively implement technology and new practices in the management of a building’s lifecycle. By offering research and design standards for more inclusive bathrooms, Stalled! moves beyond polarized rhetoric to present practical design solutions. The project tackles the norm of the sex-segregated bathroom in three areas: offering best practice guidelines for all-gender, multi-user bathrooms; amending the International Plumbing Code to allow for such design interventions; and conducting outreach and education efforts within the design and institutional community about the alternatives.
According to Stryker, a professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Arizona and an expert on transgender history, culture, and politics in the U.S., the single-sex public bathroom is discriminatory against a wide range of individuals and not just those who are trans. These include people with disabilities whose caretakers are another gender identity, those who are gender-nonconforming, and fathers who need to take their daughters to the bathroom. A commonly offered solution—the single-user, all-gender bathroom that supplements the male and female bathroom—“replicates the idea of separate but equal” by creating a segregated space for those who are not cisgender or identify either as male or female. According to Stryker, the multi-user, all-gender bathroom that Stalled! advocates for simply works better, and installing such a bathroom does not even require ideological agreement about what gender is.
Retrofitting an existing set of facilities or creating a new one “doesn’t take up more space, and meets all of these needs. It’s powerful, simple, and elegant, and offers equity of access,” added Stryker. A case study on the Stalled! site shows a retrofit of the Field House at Washington, D.C.–based Gallaudet University, featuring an inclusive changing room and bathroom. Stalled! also features an airport bathroom prototype that separates the bathroom into three zones for grooming, washing, and using the toilet, rather than by male and female users.
Beyond bathrooms, the principles of inclusive design can extend to other public spaces as well, and the project team from Stalled! has begun a startup called MIXdesign that will apply this approach to other institutions that have historically excluded those who are not able-bodied, cisgender, male, and white. The debate about gender identity and public space appears to be far from over, and if the record of the Trump administration’s measures against recognizing trans or non-binary gender identities is any indication, it appears this will be a protracted issue in the coming years. In the meantime, Stalled! offers itself as an online and real-time resource for design professionals and institutions seeking to make their bathrooms more accessible to all.