Gender-neutral bathrooms: A challenge to design around the code

Gender inclusive bathroom by Elizabeth FelicellaGender-neutral bathrooms have sparked many public debates in the US, however, in Australia, this is still a fairly new concept.  We are familiar with unisex accessible sanitary facilities that provide a space that allows carers and users of any gender.  Yet, the public services’ push towards gender neutral bathrooms to foster inclusiveness of transgender and intersex employees are causing debate in its Canberra buildings.

“We absolutely know it’s necessary to do it and to do it well,” Tim Bavinton, executive director of ACT Sexual Health and Family Planning told Fairfax Media. “But any change in a work environment requires the opportunity for people to understand why the change is necessary, and to address any issues of concern that they may raise.”

The National Construction Codes in Australia only recognises the provision of male and female sanitary compartments.  Perhaps universal design will provide the solution that architects are looking for: “Because public bathrooms need to be designated male or female, it forces transgender and nonconforming individuals to choose between the two, sometimes leading them into uncomfortable or unsafe situations. The code leaves architects with a choice, too: take the easy route and design single and multi-occupancy bathrooms labeled “male” or “female,” or design around the code–the latter of which often takes more creativity and resources.”