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Spaces without exceptions

19 of June '24

The term "inclusive design" in the context of architecture, urban planning and interior design is mainly associated with practices aimed at accommodating the needs of people with disabilities, neuroatypical people or those caring for children. Somewhat less frequently, the discussion of inclusive design includes issues related to the perspectives of those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Are public spaces really public and can everyone, regardless of gender or orientation, use them equally?

unnecessary divisions

Designing with the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community in mind implies, among other things, abandoning binary spaces. The places where gender segregation traditionally occurs are primarily changing rooms, dressing rooms and restrooms. Using them requires making choices that are not obvious to everyone - in changing clothes or taking care of hygiene and basic physiological needs, transgender and non-binary people are forced every day to make decisions that put them at risk of experiencing gender dysphoria or experiencing psychological and physical violence. In essence, however, the use of restrooms and changing rooms is not fundamentally different based on gender - so are such divisions necessary? Inclusive projects are increasingly successfully implementing solutions that eliminate the gender binary - these include gender-neutral toilets.

Toaleta neutralna płciowo

The gender-neutral restroom at Haymans Theathre at Curtin University in Bentley

photo by Orderinchaos | Wikimedia Commons © CC BY-SA 4.0

Designers deal with gender segregation in a variety of ways - for example, by providing common areas equipped with sinks and mirrors and private areas in the form of single-person cubicles. An alternative route may be to plan public restrooms in such a way that each is a separate, enclosed space equipped with all the elements necessary for the use of such a restroom. Such an arrangement is already in place for places offering one or two cubicles, such as in restaurants and trains, and in toilets designed for people with disabilities. However, it can be successfully applied on a larger scale. The third, and least radical, variation on gender-neutral toilets is to maintain the existing binary layout, while introducing additional booths not assigned to any gender.

Neutrality as a standard

Providing access to gender-neutraltoilets is slowly becoming not only a standard in countries around the world, but also a legally enforced obligation - such regulations are appearing in various parts of the United States, for example. In Poland, too, it is becoming increasingly common to encounter just such a solution - gender-neutral toilets as one of the three types of space available can be found, among others, in Tertium office buildings in Cracow, part of the Quattro Business Park complex. The introduction of such a toilet in 2022 was also boasted by LXXV LO imienia Jana III Sobieskiego in Warsaw. In the latter case, in addition to student approval, there was also much criticism and even unflattering material on public television, including a statement by the then Minister of Education.

Architektura inkluzywna

Inclusive architecture

Photo: Kaldari © public domain/Wikimedia Commons

Those opposed to the introduction of such toilets should be made aware that truly inclusive design entails benefits for all social groups. In addition to minimizing exclusion and gender dysphoria among those in the LGBTQIA+ community, the introduction of gender-neutral toilets can have a positive impact on reducing queues, which are often disproportionately longer in bathrooms designated for women. A non-binary toilet also eliminates the dilemmas associated with their use by parents whose gender is different from that of the child they are helping to use the bathroom. The situation is similar for assistants, such as those caring for the elderly. Gender-neutral toilets also take care of the needs of fathers, who often do not have access to changing facilities in men's restrooms.

apparently doesn't always mean safe

Discrimination faced by people from the LGBTQIA+ community not infrequently becomes a reason for their concealment of their identities and restraint in showing affection in public places, for example. In order to consider the safety and psychological comfort of people across the spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations, spaces such as parks and plazas should be designed to avoid overexposure, offering places on the sidelines. Such spaces, porous in nature, allow public and private spheres to intermingle, while providing safety and much-needed intimacy.

Architektura inkluzywna

Inclusive architecture - cozy corner in the park

Photo: Maya Schwarzer © Unsplash

The described effect can be achieved, among other things, through the introduction of small architecture in squares and parks, as well as design that takes into account the separation of small enclaves, which are more intimate spaces where people from the LGBTQIA+ community are not at risk of experiencing unwanted stares. The way in which lighting is introduced in such spaces is also of considerable importance - it should illuminate the environment, making it safe, while not directing a direct beam of light at the people in it. Warmer, more diffused light can help create a sense of security and be more welcoming to people sensitive to intense stimuli as well.

Architektura inkluzywna

Inclusive architecture

Photo: Jess Bailey © Unsplash

new times, new society

Modern housing is based on patterns developed many decades ago, taking into account the needs of the nuclear family, also known as the small family, consisting of two parents and their children. This so-called basic social cell, as it still likes to be called in less progressive circles, is slowly ceasing to be the standard today. For a variety of reasons, more and more people are choosing to live in relationships that deviate from the nuclear scheme, which is becoming less and less relevant. Among them, a significant group are precisely those from the queer community, who, according to statistics, are at greater risk of experiencing old age living alone, for example. The archetypal layout used in most housing developments is also unsuited to the needs of aromantic people or so-called quirkyalones, i.e. people who are out of relationships by their own choice.

However, the lack of romantic relationships or a permanent relationship does not determine living alone. For people who would like to share living space with others without being in a romantic relationship with them, a typical room layout consisting of a living room, bedroom and smaller children's rooms is not always optimal. Given the variety of lifestyles increasingly chosen in today's world, inclusive residential architecture should, like public spaces, be porous and place a premium on flexibility so that housing can meet the needs of different groups of people and serve for years to come, regardless of the conditions that a dynamically changing reality will bring.

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