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For decades, the term “commercial restrooms” evoked little excitement among users — conjuring up images of nondescript, monochromatic spaces filled with gleaming hard surfaces, zero personality and the kind of overhead florescent lighting that’s never done anyone any favors.
Commercial bathrooms have been designed to be functional, not visually stimulating. Get in, get out, no reason to appreciate the design elements because they’re mostly all the same: glaringly white porcelain, institutional chrome brassware and touchless products that apparently can’t see you.
That is changing as restrooms everywhere, from upscale restaurants and bars to airports and arenas, are getting a makeover. Builders and designers are strategically using these spaces to extend and elevate the main element’s aesthetic and finding new ways to engage and delight its users.
The design of today’s commercial restrooms is taken as seriously as the rest of the space, if not more so. They need to reflect the overall vibe of the project — not only to make the space beautiful but to elevate the experience for the user and enhance the reputation of the property.
“People no longer want public spaces to feel institutional — they want that residential feel to make them more inviting, and that’s Kohler’s specialty,” says Andy Baines, general manager of global commercial products for Kohler.
The design elements can be simple: the use of real wood accents, a trough lavatory, or unusually shaped mirrors. Or they can be dramatic, such as the public restrooms along Norway’s frozen coastline created with mirrored glass exteriors reflecting the dramatic landscape or the floating concrete cube at a downtown Tokyo subway station that’s filled with natural light.
Either way, the opportunity to connect with the user in a creative way should not be overlooked.
In addition to expecting high design, it’s no surprise that users today are also more concerned than ever that bathrooms be hygienic. COVID-19 has made it vital for public bathrooms to provide ample personal space, contact-free fixtures and a pristine, clean appearance.
Kohler has been deliberate in its design of touchless products to integrate modern lines and finishes connoting an unfussy cleanliness, highly responsive sensors that eliminate the need for patrons to dance around in order to find a faucet or soap dispenser that works, and easy alerts to indicate any necessary maintenance.
“We are focused on human-centric product development in order to always deliver a gracious experience when engaging with our products,” says Charles Scott Sr., product manager of commercial products for Kohler. “Ultimately, our goal is to keep the user as well as the products and space around them clean. We also know beautiful design has a huge impact on physical and mental wellbeing, health and safety.”
Inclusive Spaces, Sustainability
Commercial restrooms also must offer a welcoming experience to all their patrons and, as a result, there has been a move away from gender-specific bathrooms to a more universal — and inclusive — space where no one feels excluded.
“Public restrooms have a wide range of users that vary by gender, age, size, abilities, cultures, etc., and we design to ensure we meet all users’ needs,” Scott notes. “Most products, with the exception of urinals, are gender-neutral, so it’s often more a matter of designing a layout that ensures all users are comfortable in the space.”
One technique Kohler has undertaken to avoid any issues of exclusivity has been to focus on female needs and concerns. This comes with the understanding that historically, women’s issues were often ignored in product solutions. Matters surrounding privacy, enhanced hygiene, grooming, childcare, monthly cycle needs — if those are addressed, everyone benefits.
Today’s consumers are also looking for brands to be eco-minded and to minimize the ways in which human activity impacts the environment. This translates into their expectations of experiences with commercial restrooms. Sustainable amenities are vitally important to users, whether it's product transparency to understand the products’ impact on the environment and users’ health, or ultra-high-efficiency products or hard-wearing, top-quality fixtures that will last a long time and not require replacement.
“We incorporated processes such as Design for Environment to look at the entire lifecycle of the product from function all the way to end of life,” Scott explains. “This ensures that sustainable decisions are embedded in the DNA of every product.”
All these design elements — welcoming aesthetics, cleanliness, inclusivity and sustainability — were incorporated in the development of a space rigorously used by a wide variety of patrons: Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. Home of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA basketball team as well as a top-tier concert venue, Fiserv Forum needed a level of restrooms commensurate with its overall avant-garde design.
Its design firm, Milwaukee-based EUA, describes the fluid, sculptural quality of the building as a reflection of “Wisconsin's natural beauty and Milwaukee's rich heritage of industry and craftsmen,” and the restrooms needed to echo that sentiment while providing the highest functionality.
The open, light-filled restrooms incorporate many Kohler conveniences that build on an atmosphere both visually appealing and maximally functional. Kinesis touchless faucets and foam soap dispensers Composed and Curve provide dependable, responsive technology that minimizes cross-contamination while offering a clean, modern look.
Kingston Ultra toilets simultaneously provide a water conservative flush and a clean, unpluggable bowl; Bardon urinals have a contemporary appearance along with a patented geometry to keep both the user and the surrounding space spotless.
Insight faucets contain all valving within the faucet itself, making it easy for maintenance to service and reducing opportunities for vandalism. They also feature an adaptive infrared sensor that gathers and analyzes the surrounding area upon installation, then calibrates to filter out false triggers.
Clearly visible indicators on touchless products indicate to staff when maintenance is required, and all faucets have demand actuation that assures users they’re not wasting water when they wash their hands. Like all Kohler commercial items, these products have been tested two to three times more than what’s required by the industry standards to ensure they can withstand the rigors of the public setting. Fiserv developers wanted a welcoming space that functioned well and where everyone felt comfortable.
“Normally, commercial restrooms are unpredictable environments that people dread being in,” Baines notes. “We’ve tried to remedy that by elevating the level of design and resolving the main cleanliness problems that offend peoples’ senses.”