Students design accessible public washrooms

A group of second-year Industrial Design students at Carleton University presented their designs at the end of February for safe, accessible public washrooms in key Ottawa locations. (Mike Pinder Photo)

A group of second-year Industrial Design students at Carleton University have created designs for safe, accessible public washrooms in key Ottawa locations.

Partnering with Ottawa’s grassroots GottaGo! campaign, which advocates for a network of toilets at transit stops and other public places, some 45 students designed scale models of eight public washrooms to meet an urgent need in the city.

Kicked off at the beginning of the semester by Brian Burns, associate professor at the School of Industrial Design, the four-week project identified several high-need areas in Ottawa. The students visited the sites and met with community leaders to determine needs.

“The students exceeded all expectations,” Prof. Bjarki Hallgrimsson said during the Feb. 25 presentation where the models were unveiled. “This project shows that design can be about making people’s lives easier. And building models is a way to engage non-designers on a different level.”

Examining a diverse range of sites selected by the GottaGo! campaign team, with varying physical and social conditions, students considered issues such as universal accessibility, security and safety, ergonomics, fit with the neighbourhood and climate.

“It’s about understanding people and their needs,” said Hallgrimsson. “The project has changed my thinking. It’s a great introduction to get students looking at the big picture, figuring out the components and broadening their minds.”

Thomas Faulkner, who worked on a sleek, open-concept, hygiene-friendly design for a modern washroom facility at the Bayview LRT station, talked about applying his project design education to the assignment.

“I enjoyed working on this project because it is actually helping people,” said Faulkner. “Our ideas have a chance to affect a solution. Now I have so much more insight.”

Mia Muscraft collaborated with five fellow students to design a red brick facility with arched windows that would fit into the aesthetics of the historic Byward Market.

“It wasn’t something I was expecting,” said Muscraft. “It was a very large project, but fun to get everyone involved with such aspects as ergonomics and anthropometrics.”

Muscraft explained that it was important to take into account that people would be leaving bars late at night where there are no public washrooms available.

Joan Kuyek, chair of the GottaGo! campaign and who a contract instructor at Carleton’s School of Social Work, said the opportunity to work with students was a boost for everyone.

“Scaled models stimulate people’s imagination about what’s possible,” she said. “It doesn’t require language to understand them.”

Kuyek hopes the project will spark more discussion at City Hall. She has lobbied city council and petitioned community groups for endorsements.

“If public toilets are clean and interesting and attractive and suitable for the people using them, they don’t become vandalized. These toilets,” she said, indicating the students’ models, “point to another way to do this.”

Other locations identified as needing public washrooms are the Kanata Park’n’Ride at Eagleson Road, Ottawa River Parkway near the Naval War Museum, Rideau Street adjacent to the Metro Car Park, Parc Optimiste in Vanier, Dundonald Park near the Rideau River and Strathcona Park on Somerset Street.

Hallgrimsson said he would like to see the venture become a fourth-year Industrial Design project, which could focus more deeply on one location, but that would require funding to build larger scale models.

“My point of view is that models engage the public in a very different way than pictures. It’s more real to people,” said Hallgrimsson. “And if the models could be displayed to the public, they would get attention for how to make a better city, which is an exciting theme for students.”

The School of Industrial Design’s GottaGo! project report is available at: ottawapublictoilets.ca/resources.

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Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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