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Germs and the Art of Public Restroom Navigation Post Covid

Eimear Ennis Associate Director at NODA Architects investigates the perils that confronts us on entering public restrooms and how we can as designers mitigate in the spread of virus and bacteria.

Back in 2009 and swine flu I remember there was an article about toilet seats being cleaner than most taps. This was something that rather appalled me, but we continued as we were with no real design changes in architecture and interiors.

Swine flu wasn’t a huge European problem in terms of numbers getting the virus and dying, although the WHO have estimated that 579,000 people died from it even though there were only 18,000 deaths verified by labs over a 19-month period.

Roll onto 2020, and we find ourselves amid a much greater pandemic with a lot more emphasis being placed on how we can successfully get out of it and prevent it spreading again. We have been advised that regular hand washing is the way to beat this virus. However, we are only as good as what we touch to clean our hands and the maintenance used by companies in providing regular cleaning is our defence against that.

Being a tad OCD on touching items in airports, planes, or public restrooms I find that the elbow, wrist, or foot are my go-to in avoiding touching a surface. This is not a practical solution for all as balance and long limbs are a must.

As per my article “Can Copper Alloys in ironmongery protect in the spread of Virus and Bacteria in our environment?” it seems we should look at the Healthcare industry and see what lessons we can learn. I don’t think companies are going to pay for an attendant to sit in restrooms hovering over our every move with disinfectant.

The less amount of time we touch a surface seems to be the answer. Automated systems and technology that are already in use in the Healthcare sector and in some newer airports could be used in other sectors as in Office Fit Out, Hospitality and schools.

These systems also offer a control on the amount of water that is being used so they are more economical and a greener product with some companies citing a saving of up to 70% on water. There are many different options out there from Grohe, to the Dyson Airblade commonly used in Terminal 5 at Heathrow.

Image courtesy Karolina Grabowska from P

Image courtesy Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Talking to Mike Kelly from Versatile there is a huge increase in interest in companies wanting to change out their faucets saying “an awful lot of customers are looking for touchless options and are looking to retro fit into existing properties”. This he said goes as far as the toilet sensor, the soap dispenser and he said he has heard that a hotel in London are putting them into their bedrooms.

The Conti range that Versatile offer is a true technology giant in that it not only offers a contactless solution but also uses thermal disinfection to eliminate the possibility of legionella. It also can have every faucet controlled back to a central point 350metres away where settings can be remotely changed. It comes in:

  • 4 finishes so it will fit in with most design aesthetic.

  • In terms of pharmaceutical companies the Conti also offers purer water due to the hygiene flush that can be regulated for the control pad so it can flush every hour if required  so there are no bio films building us on the tap.

  • This is a great option for large office blocks too as the bar pressure is from .5 to 10 bar so there would be no need for another pump half-way up the building.

  •  A benefit which make outweigh the cost is that the Conti range is maintained at the faucet itself so there is no requirement to get access under the fitting.

Image courtesy Versatile Conti Range

Image courtesy Versatile Conti Range

Handwashing in Covid times

The hospitality industry, where design is bespoke and tailored to the interior aesthetic will need to be looked at more carefully. When we go to a hotel we are doing so to get away from our 9-5, and having the same taps at work will not really wash…….

There are a lot of design options, these can come at a premium as there hasn’t been the same desire for automated taps in that sector. Dornbracht Mike tells me have numerous options which are less sterile.

These work on radar and not sensor technology, they also are made from solid brass, so in accordance with my previous chats on materials and ironmongery that means that even if touched bacteria and virus will not grow. The finish is also more akin to what us designers like.

Maybe the investment on such technology will pay off if hotels and restaurants can open earlier and have less payment for cleaning staff. Clientele will also feel more comfortable with the service provided which is a bonus in getting the repeat customer.

So, we can now navigate the main items without touching surfaces, but what if we take it further? The redesign of public restrooms needs to consider how we enter them, this is something that we have mostly seen in airports with the chicane entry which avoids you having any doors. How does this comply with ventilation and fire regulations? There is no reason why it should not work and it is something that surely should be considered.

Can we extend it to the cubicles themselves? You tube has numerous videos showing people trying to open the cubicle doors without using their hands, although quite hilarious there must be a clever design solution. Should all doors open outwards for instance and have a self-closing mechanism? That would only leave the lock to touch…….

It would seem that there is an answer for everything on the web. Thrislington cubicles have designed a sensor operated door, which opens and locks automatically. It looks slick and aesthetically pleasing and based as they say on “perfect engineering”. I must say I am very intrigued how it works.

There is a technology for everything, and I don’t think that the design is compromised too much. It is an area which should be overhauled to boost employee confidence that they are in a safe environment.

From a virologist’s perspectives the restroom is an area of high risk in terms of spread of the germs and virus and so it is only right that we introduce new measures to protect ourselves. The starting point could just be with automated taps and soap dispensers. Other than that we can revert to attendants being stationed in the restrooms and somehow I feel that is us going backwards.

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