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Designing Public Bathrooms
A focus on well-being
The United Nations Quietly Averting Existential Consequences
Teen Toilet Training
This past year has shown us the importance of well–being, of looking after both our physical and mental health, and bathroom spaces have a fundamental role to play in this.
In films and TV shows, both public and private bathrooms are often used as a way to gain deeper insight into a character. It’s where we might see the character give themselves a pep talk, where they might go to regain their composure following a stressful situation. It’s a place we often see the character at their most vulnerable.
In short, bathrooms are a place of grounding, and they play a fundamental role in our understanding of ourselves. Bathrooms, whether public or private, should therefore be places of calm, a place to escape from the chaotic nature of the everyday, even if just for two minutes. They should be places that go beyond facilitating health and hygiene, and encourage well-being.
In public bathrooms, that can seem like an impossible goal. While bathrooms are places one goes to get clean, many public bathrooms often feel dirty. This is particularly the case if you think of public restrooms in parks, train stations, airports, and so on. Poor lighting and hard, cold metal surfaces often come to mind, which are as far away from the spa-like idea conjured up by the notion of well-being. But new materials and technologies are making room for significant improvements, and small changes can have an enormous impact. Roca’s work with One Hundred Restrooms is a step change in public bathroom design, one that recognizes the importance of the public bathroom as a sanctuary, rather than just a practical space to meet physiological needs.
In my work as an industrial designer working predominantly in the transport industry, I’ve often strived to aim for a domestic look and feel in public spaces, and it’s an approach that carries over to the design of public bathrooms as well. For instance, softer lighting, natural finishes and light colors can create an airy, calming space that one would more likely associate with a hotel bathroom than that on a train or a plane. I also approach these spaces as an opportunity to inject some brand identity through the selection of materials and finishes. In our transport projects for instance, we often use colors and patterns that reflect the operator’s brand. It’s a way to highlight attention to detail and improve the customer experience in every single part of the journey.
Today, more than a year into the global pandemic, the design of public bathrooms comes with an acute need for hygiene and cleanliness that designers, materialists and technology companies are all working to address. From self-cleaning materials to touch-free technology, we’re seeing a host of new innovations in the bathroom space.
One of the technologies that has really come to the fore is UVC cleaning, which allows spaces to be cleaned easily and efficiently, while also reducing the need for harsh chemicals, which would otherwise end up in our water systems. This technology can be combined with thermochromic and photochromic inks to display a message of reassurance on a surface after it has been cleaned. Increasing awareness of the cleanliness of a space will help relieve potential user anxiety and contribute to a sense of well-being, and is also important for positive brand perception, particularly for retail and hospitality brands.
As we design the public bathrooms of the future, it’s essential that we ensure these spaces are accessible and available to all. We need to address the needs of every user, regardless of age, physical ability or socioeconomic background. It’s important for example to consider that public bathrooms can play a role in tackling hygiene poverty. In the UK, over one third of people, and over half of 18 to 24-year-olds have had to go without hygiene or grooming essentials.* This has a direct impact on physical health, as well as mental well-being, and also has a role to play in social integration.
Public bathrooms are democratic spaces that can help fulfil a role beyond the pure physical need, and be a place where every individual can regroup, rest and recharge.
Paul Priestman is jury of jumpthegap®, Roca’s International Design Contest, for which participants are invited to submit their designs between 3 May and 6 September. For more info visit: www.jumpthegap.net
Main image: Qatar Airways, A380 First Class bathroom design, PriestmanGoode. Image courtesy PriestmanGoode