It was a familiar sight: a long line of women waiting to use the bathroom.
It was intermission after the first act of a famous musical. We were downtown last night – my mother, my sixteen-year-old niece, and me – to see a play that was on tour from the Big City Like No Other. Like all big productions that come to Snowstorm City, the play was performed in the main theatre housed in Big Brick Building. The lively first act had ended at about 9 pm, and we'd walked out from our seats on the mezzanine level to stretch our legs and use the bathrooms.
The line behind us was soon ridiculously long, mostly because of the poor design of the restroom, which featured an empty corridor, a room that held nothing but a huge mirror, a whole row of sinks with more mirrors, and then only three stalls, one of which was out of order. The restroom was spacious but had only two working toilets. It seems like whoever had designed this bathroom had somehow missed the point. Missed the point entirely.
I could just imagine what my architecture students would say about the design. How were all those mirrors going to help out someone who had been sitting in a theatre for a couple of hours and desperately needed to pee? What architect had designed a bathroom so ill-suited to the needs of patrons who need to get in and out quickly during a fifteen minute intermission?
"Wow, there's a lot of wasted space here, " I said as I looked around. I was talking to my mother, but the woman behind me jumped quickly into the conversation.
"I redesign this place in my head every time I come here," she said. She launched enthusiastically into her plan.
She'd eliminate the empty room with the big mirror that no one ever uses, get rid of four out of the five sinks, and add eight more stalls. One sink, with a small mirror above it, would be plenty, and could be moved out to the empty space that leads into the bathroom. Ten working toilets could get twenty women in and out in about five minutes.
It turns out that pretty much every woman in line had been redesigning the space in her head. Women in the line nodded and chimed in.
I am thinking that architect students who are planning to design public spaces should be required to find an overcrowded women's bathroom and interview anyone who has been standing in line for more than five minutes. That simple exercise could lead to revolutionary changes in the way restrooms are designed.
It seemed funny, I thought, as we left the building after the show. Clearly, the space had been designed with big crowds in mind: the staircases are wide, with escalators on both sides, and the corridors and foyers are huge. Certainly, the designer had given some thought to aesthetics: on one level, big glass corner windows give a lovely view of the city at dusk. You can look out at the big courthouse, the cathedral, the stone statue in the circle, and the mural painted on the sides of a building. But it seems that the architect forgot somehow, while designing the area around traffic patterns, that the hundreds of humans using the building would have bodies and bodily needs.