National controversies surrounding transgender access to public restrooms accept the sex-segregated bathroom as an inviolate norm, without addressing the design consequences of this social justice issue. While many progressive institutions are committed to bathroom equity, they are working in isolation to come up with viable solutions without the benefit of a consistent approach that considers the broad social, political, economic, and architectural dimensions of this complex problem.
Stalled! assembles a cross-disciplinary research team — architect Joel Sanders, trans historian Susan Stryker, and legal scholar Terry Kogan – to consider this issue from a cultural, political, legal, and design perspective. We are committed to addressing this challenge through three initiatives:
Developing Best Practice Guidelines for all-gender, multi-user restrooms that can be implemented in new and existing construction, in light of legal, economical, practical, and design-positive considerations.
Amending the International Plumbing Code (“IPC”)—the model code that governs most construction in the United States—to allow for all-gender, multi-user restrooms in new and existing buildings.
Raising the awareness of the design community and institutional and government stakeholders about the need to design equitable public spaces.
Stalled! offers public lectures that situate national restroom debates within a broader cultural, historical, political, ecological and architectural context. Sanders has given presentations at University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, University of Houston, Center For Architecture, New York University, Pratt Institute and New York School of Interior Design.
Stalled! Campus Workshops assemble key university stakeholders to discuss the social and design challenges of implementing inclusive spaces addressing issues of safety, universal access, code compliance and cost. Stalled! Campus Workshops have been conducted at University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Houston, Florida International University, and Society of College and University Planning (SCUP).
If interested in conducting a Stalled! Workshop tailored to your institution, please contact us.
Writings and Interviews
The Stalled! team has published articles and given interviews. Joel Sanders and Susan Stryker co-authored the essay for the South Atlantic Quarterly, “Stalled: Gender-Neutral Public Bathrooms.” Stalled! has been featured in Metropolis Magazine, LA Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Architect Magazine, Posture Magazine, and Architects Newspaper. Pieces in Log Magazine and Footprint Journal are forthcoming.
Stalled! is a direct response to the moral panic triggered by court cases seeking to overturn Obama’s Title IX protections guaranteeing trans individuals access to sex-segregated public toilets that align with their gender identity. In March, the Trump administration rescinded these protections and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board.
Stalled! shifts the terms of this debate by treating this not as a legal issue alone but a social justice issue that can be addressed through design alternatives that do not accept sex-segregated bathrooms as a given. In addition to creating design guidelines that address an urgent architectural problem, Stalled! treats restrooms as a means to generate a larger conversation about the relationship between environmental design, the human body and social equity. The controversies surrounding transgender bathrooms is just one example of the way civil liberties of non-compliant bodies — women, African-Americans, Muslims, the disabled and the LBGTQ community to name a few — are imperiled both in this country and around the world by denying people access to public space.
DESIGN APPROACH: ABOLISHING THE BINARY
Stalled! has developed prototypes for multi-stall gender inclusive restrooms for university retrofits and generic airports. Working with funding from the New York State Council on the Arts and Hewlett Packard, we are consolidating this research into a manual of Best Practice Guidelines that can be implemented in renovation and new construction projects by institutions and city agencies.
Stalled! critiques the generally accepted solution for all-gender bathrooms: supplementing sex-segregated facilities by adding a single-occupancy room, often with wheelchair access, labeled Gender Neutral. This approach stigmatizes nonconforming individuals, not only trans people but also the disabled, by separating them from other people.
Stalled! advocates an alternative model that treats the public restroom as a single open space equipped with floor-to-ceiling stalls that ensure visual privacy. This solution has several advantages. Gender nonconforming people need not choose between options that don’t align with their identities. By consolidating a greater number of people in one rather than two rooms, there are potentially more eyes to monitor it, reducing the risk of restroom harassment and violence, particularly for trans people, who statistically are the most victimized. The multi-unit type not only meets the needs of the trans community but also a wide range of nonnormative bodies traditionally neglected in public restrooms.
PROTOTYPE: GENERIC AIRPORT RESTROOM
Stalled! is developing restroom prototypes that can be implemented in a variety of generic sites, from smaller footprints in institutional buildings to high volume facilities in airport concourses. We chose an airport as a case study because it is a high volume, mixed-use public space where a diverse constituency spends extended periods of time, catering to their mental and physical needs while they wait—checking social media, eating and going to the bathroom.
Our scheme for the airport restroom takes as its point of departure the standard dimensions of a typical gender-segregated airport restroom. Our goal was to explore different ways that a wide range of embodied subjects could mix together in public space, based on the understanding that the seemingly commonplace and universal activities that we perform in restrooms are shaped by the convergence of biological, cultural and psychological factors.
Activity Zones: Treating the toilet stall as a privacy unit allows us to eliminate the barrier that typically divides adjacent men’s and women’s rooms as well as the wall that separates them from the concourse and instead reconceive of the public restroom as a semi-open agora-like precinct that is animated by three parallel activity zones, each dedicated to grooming, washing and eliminating.
Slip-resistant sheets of diamond plate, tile and rubber differentiate each of the three activity zones painted a different shade of blue for the visually impaired. After debating the merits of different color options, we finally chose blue because research indicates that it is soothing, associated with water, health and hygiene, and a complementary background color for deaf signing because it contrasts with skin tones.
Immediately adjacent to the concourse, the grooming station features a smart mirror that disseminates information (flight arrival and departure times, weather, and retail) while they groom at a multi-level counter that serves people of different heights and abilities. Those who want privacy can retreat into curtained alcoves for breastfeeding, administering medical procedures such insulin injections, meditation and prayer.
The communal washing station meets the needs of adults, children, people in wheel chairs and Muslims who use public restrooms to perform ritual ablutions for cleansing face, hands, arms and feet. Inset floor lights indicate the location of motion-activated faucets inset into the wall that allows water to flow into an inclined splash planes placed at different ergonomic heights that is then collected and cleaned in a remediating planter before being recycled. The scent of plants and the ambient sounds of flowing water masks bodily sounds and odors.
Located at the back of the facility, the eliminating station consolidates rows of bathroom stalls that offer acoustic and visual privacy. Unoccupied stalls are indicated by recessed floor lights; when entered, they turn off and the now occupied stall glows from within. From the inside of each stall, users can surveil their surrounding by looking through a band of blue one-way mirror located at seated eye-level. Stalls contain low flush composting toilets that treat human waste through aerobic decomposition.
As users circulate from one station to the next, passing from the outermost grooming station to the innermost toilet wall, they experience a multi-sensory gradient that takes them from public to private, open to closed, smooth to coarse, dry to wet, acoustically reverberant to sound absorptive, ambient to spot lighting.
Joel Sanders is the Principal of his award-winning New York based studio JSA and a Professor of Architecture at Yale University. Editor of STUD: Architecture’s of Masculinity and Groundwork: Between Landscape and Architecture, Sanders’ writings and practice have explored the complex relationship between culture and social space, looking at the impact that evolving cultural forces (such as gender identity and the body, technology and new media, and the nature/culture dualism) have on the designed environment. Sanders’ co-authored essay with Susan Stryker, Stalled: Gender-Neutral Bathrooms, is published in the South Atlantic Quarterly (115:4, Duke University Press). JSA has long-standing relationships with many institutions including Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, NYU, and University of Virginia. JSA projects have been featured in international exhibitions and permanent collections of MoMA, SF MoMA, Art Institute of Chicago and the Carnegie Museum of Art. The firm has received numerous awards, including New York Chapter AIA, New York State AIA, ALA / IIDA Library Interior Design, Interior Design Best of Year, and Design Citations from Progressive Architecture.
Susan Stryker is a founding figure and leading trans-activist in the field of transgender studies. She is Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Director of the Institute for LGBT Studies at the University of Arizona, and has co-edited two award-winning anthologies that provide a core literature for the field — The Transgender Studies Reader (Routledge, 2006; Lambda Literary Award) and The Transgender Studies Reader 2 (Routledge, 2013; Ruth Benedict Book Prize). She has also authored one of the more widely taught introductory text on the topic, Transgender History (Seal Press, 2008; nominated for the Alan Bray Memorial Prize), and co-founded and co-edited the journal of record for the field, TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, published by Duke University Press starting in 2014. Additionally, her published scholarship on trans and queer topics dating back to the early 1990s, has appeared in such publications as Radical History Review, Parallax, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, and Women’s Studies Quarterly and her 2005 documentary film Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria in 2005 received an Emmy Award. She has served on the Advisory Board of the Arcus Endowment for the Study of Sexuality and the Built Environment at the College of Environmental Design at University of California-Berkeley, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of GATE: Global Action for Trans* Equality.
Terry Kogan is currently a professor of law at the University of Utah, Terry has spent the last decade considering issues surrounding the legal and cultural norms that mandate the segregation of public restrooms by sex. Terry has written extensively on bathrooms and gender segregation from a legal perspective. His latest scholarship, Public Restrooms and the Distorting of Transgender Identity (North Carolina Law Review, Volume 95, Issue 4, forthcoming) addresses North Carolina House Bill 2, which requires that public restroom access be based on biological sex, rather than gender identity. Most recently, he has submitted an amicus brief for the U.S. Supreme Court transgender restroom case – G.G. v. Gloucester Cty. Sch. Bd.
Quemuel Arroyo is a Policy Analyst for Accessibility and ADA Coordinator at the NYC Department of Transportation. He is a New Yorker with a disability, who is committed to innovative solutions for barrier free urban space that fosters diversity, and is currently focusing on making construction sites, the Staten Island Ferry, and public plazas more accessible to New Yorkers with disabilities.