Friday, July 23, 2004

Perhaps it looked good on paper?

Everytime I battle my way into one of the ladiesrooms in the Southwest terminal of the San Jose airport, I expect to encounter a group of architecture students taking notes on the utter idiocy of the bathroom design. It must be a textbook example of how not to design a public restroom.

The doorless entrances are twisting, narrow corridors that put luggage-toting women entering the room on a collision-course with women who have washed their hands and trying to find the paper towel dispensers. The two towel dispensers are positioned at the far ends of the long counter lined with sinks. Anyone who has used one of the five sinks and needs a towel must back away from the sink, hands dripping, leave her luggage blocking access to the sink, and clamber over the luggage of every other woman at the counter before colliding with the incoming stream of travelers entering next to the towels. Dripping, leaping and exhausted, the handwashers look like Pacific salmon heading upstream.

The toilet stalls are obviously the work of the same clueless designer. They can accommodate a toilet, you, and your luggage—but whoever designed them did not take into account the fact that the user would need to open the door to get herself and her luggage in and out of the stall. (Perhaps they though she'd heave the bag over the top, or push the bag in and vault over it?) I admit that I take the risk and leave my luggage outside the stall door. My bag is large, and my reasoning is that anyone trying to make off with it would get stuck in the bottleneck at the towel dispensers long enough for me to flush, get out, and reclaim my bag.

The looks on the faces of women as they try to get into those stalls range from grim determination (frequent fliers, they've been there before) to horror and panic--that usually from women who must try to figure out how to squeeze in with both their luggage and their squirming kids.

The restroom entrances are dog-leg bends without any doors, so the exterior signage for "Men" and "Women" must be posted elsewhere (such as high above the doors). Since the restrooms for "Men" and "Women" are right next to each other, it can be tricky to differentiate between the two. At least that's my explanation for what I witnessed a few weeks ago. I was sitting in a Southwest waiting area, facing the restrooms, and noticed a male business traveler clearly looking for the facilities. In his hurry, he turned one entryway too soon. There were shrieks from a herd of female towel-seekers; he emerged red-faced and hurried down the concourse, headed in the direction of the International terminal where, one hopes, they have normal restrooms.

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