In the 1880s women were entering the workforce. At the time, many workplaces only offered male restrooms to their employees. In 1887, to respond to this, state laws were created, “requiring sex-segregated restrooms to ensure that women would have their own restrooms.” This was thought to make women feel welcomed in the workplace and ultimately led to its inclusion in plumping codes (i.e. “required separate toilet fixtures for men and women”). 130 years later, these plumping codes would find itself hindering architects from designing gender neutral bathrooms.
There are ways around this however. Since building codes are dictated by municipality, building owners can ask the city for a variance, allowing for one bathroom to be created instead of two. Unfortunately, the wait for such a variance can take months and delay construction of buildings, costing large amounts of money. Still some people do use it to help transgender customers feel welcomed.
In recent years, there has been a huge push to get the 1880 law changed completely. The International Code Council is “an industry organization that holds an summit every three years to re-evaluate” current building codes in America. They actually have the power to update restroom plumping codes, but so far, have made none. In looking through the failed January 2016 proposal submissions, S Surface and Maxwell Ng, two architects spearheading gender neutral bathrooms, discovered some tough rejection reasons.
“Some were declined because it was not written in ‘enforceable’ language,” says Surface. “One got a comment that said something like ‘our jury showed it to a woman and she said she would be uncomfortable.’”
Regardless, there is still hope. "Architects have been missing from this fight,“ Ng says. "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.” The next due date for International Code Council proposals is in 2019. I’m sure these architects will be ready.
If you’re interested The Fast Co Design article goes more in depth of the reasoning for the plumping code, (even including for formula used to figure out how many toilets are needed to cut down on wait times),