Stalled out on Standard Restroom Design?

Read this blog to catch up on the transgender bathroom design debate, and get inspired to make restrooms more functional for all gender identities.

transgender bathroom sign

“We can design restrooms in such a way that people of all genders feel safe. There is a better way.”

Matt Nardella, architect at Moss Design in Chicago.

Brief History of the Transgender Bathroom Design Debate

The traditional architectural thought on transgender bathroom design as a “work by code” installation may need a renovation. Architects are at the forefront of the transgender movement, aiming to maximize both privacy and personal health – essentials within the restroom. In a study conducted by the news agency Reuters, approximately 60% of transgender Americans consciously choose to avoid public restrooms due to lack of comfort. That translates to approximately 300,000 Americans denied a basic public need. “Regardless of who you are and what you were born with”– says Maxwell Ng, architect at DiMella Shaffer – “you can use any bathroom. It’s the definition of Universal Design: Each is outfitted with the exact same thing.”

Universal Design is a concept many architects have gotten behind. The architecture community is also seeing support with the approach. Organizations like QSpace are spearheading the movement by advocating for LGBT architecture promotion within restroom development. Co-founders Lauren Johnson and Ryan Day seek to provide a platform that promotes social activism for transgender bathroom design through research, publications, and design guidelines. One of their pilot projects was to respond to bathroom bills like BH2 in North Carolina and pose a solution through the implementation of updated bathroom codes. 

Are you currently working on a solution to the transgender restroom debate?

Please share your transgender bathroom design solution with GBES by emailing the Director of Education (al**********@gb**.com).  

Recent Code Changes

Why don’t we see more transgender restroom signs? Architects, it’s not your fault, but we need your help informing building owners about the changes to ICC updates to Chapter 29 Plumbing Systems. The International Code Council (ICC), which sets precedent for global perspective on building and plumbing codes has been resistant to say the least on the transgender movement.

Fortunately for proponents, this year’s amendments to ICC Chapter 29 Plumbing Systems, Section 2902.1.2states, “Single-user toilet facilities and bathing rooms, and family or assisted-use toilet and bathing rooms shall be identified for use by either sex.” Prior to this ruling, the ICC had rejected proposal after proposal from the LGBT community advocating for such inclusion. This ruling was groundbreaking for LGBT restroom initiative and the community alike.  

New Restroom Designs Offer Inclusion

Architects like Dan Wood, partner at Work Architecture Company, are eager about the evolution within the industry. “Of course, bathrooms should be inclusive; it only makes sense” says Wood. “It’s a cultural change for sure, to accept the knowledge that there are more than two genders, but I feel we’re all ready for it.” Proponents envision not only a social change but well-improved design features as well. In addition to having to consider men’s and women’s restroom in development, architects may now think all-inclusive and include multi-user restroom design. This coupled with the idea of meeting more of society’s needs is what Wood and those favoring such design are advocating for.

All People Deserve Privacy

Although many see the benefits of inclusion with future design, some within the architectural community are not so convinced. Jeff Sanders, design professional at BOKA Powell, is concerned about the necessary safety precautions that would need to be accounted for. “While I fully commend them for being open to the option, I do worry about the security measures of having individual rooms. How does it solve the issue of people smoking, fornicating, or not having a visual if someone passes out in the stall? Those are still issues that need to be taken into consideration as we move forward to rethinking bathroom designs for education spaces.”

Sanders brings up a good point, bathrooms should be the fundamental location for privacy, security, and safety. Design professionals like Sanders are asking these essential questions that must be asked before implementing such policy into mainstream society. School superintendents are hesitant to jump on board due to the lack of experience with such design. Others like Grant High School in Portland, Oregon are full-fledged in joining the movement declaring that all their restrooms will be gender neutral by 2019. “We like to call them inclusive restrooms” says Dr. Campbell, Principal at Grant High. Such design integration will require community input and staff support within the school system to promote privacy.  

Transgender Restroom Design Concepts

Given the complexity of innovative bathroom design, architects are hard at work aiming to develop a space that provides for all personal needs. A perspective to bring into the conversation is the creativity that is required for such design. Given the unfamiliarity of the project, implementation may be trickier than expected. Architect Lauren Johnson alludes to the fact that much of the industry is in the dark with development, “The common response from developers is ‘we’ve always done it this way.” Architects who can adapt will be at the forefront of transgender bathroom design.


Many of the concepts being offered today are simply slight adjustments to standard bathroom design. Concepts like eliminating “peeping slots” and installing full-length doors, to providing an all-in-one personal provider (mirror, toilet, phone holder, changing table) within each stall can be implemented without much change to the norm. To maximize security and privacy, developers suggest cordoning off urinals and clearly labeling locks on stalls. One of the more experimental concepts involves separate entry and exit doors to promote supervision.


Transgender Bathroom logo on the outside wall of a transgender bathroom; transgender bathroom design
Another controversial design feature is not the utilities within the restroom, but the plaque that goes outside. Some architects have sided for a blend of the traditional man/woman design we have come to know. Opponents say this will only add confusion to the societal transition. As a response, a small group of disruptive design professionals are advocating for a toilet logo with the claim that it’s simple, straightforward, and all inclusive. Architects will now have to evaluate both efficiency and social implications in restroom design.

“Architects have been missing from this fight, I do genuinely see it as a design issue. And I genuinely believe that anything can be solved with good design. Architects love a good challenge.” –Maxwell Ng, an architectural designer at DiMella Shaffer in Boston

Q: Where does transgender bathroom design fit into Building Certification?

The WELL Building Standard promotes social equity in Mind Feature 98 Organizational Transparency.

A: Empower yourself as an advocate for social equity!

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