Cal Anderson Park’s restrooms are getting a makeover this year with an eye for gender-inclusive design.
The current structure—described by SPR as, no joke, “a simple romantic cottage”—opened in 2003, but has collected somewhat of a reputation for being, as Capitol Hill Seattle put it, “notoriously gross.”
It’s not just about the “ew” factor—the current facility, which features two gender-segregated facilities with stalls, carries serious safety concerns. Gender Justice League (GJL) has produced Trans Pride in the meadow adjacent to the restrooms since 2013, but, as Executive Director Danni Askini told Curbed Seattle, “the current space has not felt particularly welcoming or activated.”
Design guidance for the restrooms is detailed in a March 2016 study completed by SPR with architectural consulting by Young Architecture. It identified some best practices for keeping restrooms clean and encouraging good behavior from the public—clear sightlines, well-maintained facilities, aesthetically pleasing designs.
“More activation is what we’re shooting for,” says Cheryl Eastberg, project coordinator for SPR Planning and Development.
The possible change that might be most noticeable to the general public, though, is a switch to direct-entry, all-gender stalls—that is, stalls or full rooms that the user would enter from outside the facility, instead of entering a stall from inside a bigger room.
With guidance from groups like Portland’s PHLUSH, SPR identified many advantages of direct-entry stalls. For example: One dangerous feature of Cal Anderson’s restrooms—and many park restrooms—is semi-private areas, like common sinks by a row of bathroom stalls. The semi-privacy can lead to dangerous confrontations directed at people perceived to be in the “wrong” restroom, and it’s in these kinds of areas where harassment occurs most often. Eliminating these kinds of areas not only increases safety, but saves space, and allows maintenance to clean a restroom without shutting down half of the bathrooms in the park.
Askini says that other priorities for GJL include all stalls being both all-gender and accessible, including storage space for things that could help activate the surrounding area (like furniture), and that those using the facility have an opportunity to change clothes. She adds that GJL would like to see showers as part of the facility, as well as well-placed sharps boxes. (Showers will not be a part of this particular project, although many details of the design are still being finalized.)
Both SPR and GJL point to a few examples of public, all-gender restrooms that can be used for inspiration for this project. One of Askini’s favorites is the LaJolla Shores Kellogg Park Comfort Station, which was used as the inspiration for one of SPR’s concept plans. Other inspirations included in the SPR study include Portland State University and the revamped Port Authority restrooms.
The general design SPR’s study ultimately recommends for the park has four, equal-sized, ADA-compliant, single-stall restrooms, with storage in the center. The design won’t affect the footprint of the building, so most renovations will take place inside.
SPR’s Kelly Gould, the project manager for the renovation, says that they’ll stick to this general plan, although there will be “minor tweaks” as the design is finalized.
“It will be a safer space,” Gould tells CS, with better lighting—and that it will generally be a safer environment for all users.
Cal Anderson seems like an appropriate place for an all-gender bathroom redesign, although the new restrooms won’t be ready by this year’s Trans Pride in June.
“We were really shooting for this spring,” Eastberg tells us. The park’s fountain needs repiping, and ultimately SPR decided to time two major renovations for the park together, after the summer, for minimal impact to the park. Construction on both projects is slated to begin in the fall, although both need additional approval due to Cal Anderson’s landmark status.
Gould tells us that this project comes as SPR has been looking to “do a different way of building comfort stations, period.” Tacoma, he says, has been building comfort stations with single stalls for a long time, and it’s not only safer, it’s useful from a maintenance perspective.
The Cal Anderson restroom project is unique because it’s staying within the footprint of the building, says Gould. He points to the upcoming Pratt Park renovation as more of a prototype for how SPR will build comfort stations moving forward. Much like the Cal Anderson project, though, the idea is all single-stall restrooms with identical bays.
In August 2015, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance requiring all public, single-occupant restrooms be all-gender.
The bathroom renovation has been in the works during a critical time for trans safety. Last year, a small but vocal group seeking to repeal protections for transgender people, Just Want Privacy, circled an initiative petition, but failed to get the required signatures. Last month, they filed another, similar initiative, I-1552. Washington Won’t Discriminate, the group that opposed last year’s initiative, has already begun circulating a pledge not to sign the new initiative.