For parents, getting out and about with little kids can be a challenging experience, writes Rebecca Antos. From feeding ever-hungry newborns to dealing with toddler meltdowns and the sudden need for nappy changes – or head-to-toe outfit changes – parents’ rooms offer welcome respite for any parent in need of a break.
Unfortunately, many people still consider the parents’ room, a ‘mothers’ room’, despite the name. To the point where there have been incidences of dads being made to feel uncomfortable, or even abused and being asked to leave the parents’ room, in the assumption that it wasn’t a space for them.
The fact is, the family structure is changing; the traditional nuclear family with dad at work and mum at home is no longer the norm. Two-parent families are often both working and sharing childcare, while single parent families, blended families, same-sex families, trans and gender diverse families are all growing in number. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), by 2025-30, single-parent households will make up about 30% of all homes with kids in Australia. So the assumption that a parents’ room should only cater for a cisgendered (ie. a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex) mother is not only outdated but also excludes such a vast group of parents and carers, all who wish to feel comfortable and welcome in using a parents’ room facility.
In fact, for trans and gender diverse people, the entire public restroom space – from the parents’ rooms to the toilets – can feel unwelcoming. For this reason, when Casuarina Square decided to renovate its public amenities, it wanted to create more inclusive spaces to ensure all customers felt welcome.
Casuarina Square, the largest shopping centre in the Northern Territory, commissioned Hames Sharley to refurbish five of its public toilet amenities, including new parents’ rooms. After discussions with key community groups, the shopping centre management wanted to create a greater feeling of inclusivity, which became a core component of the brief.
The parents’ rooms were designed to be completely non-gendered, from the natural, earthy colour palettes chosen to the non-gendered directional signage. Although each parents’ room was different, a common aesthetic was the connection with nature, featuring indoor plants, animal graphics and natural scents like florals and citrus. Features included the necessary amenities, such as adult and child sized toilets, baby change tables, bottle prep stations, private feeding rooms and a space to entertain and educate small children.
In addition to the parents’ rooms, it was also decided to include a parent/child toilet cubicle in both the male and female toilet blocks. The idea was sparked by feedback from some fathers indicating a lingering hesitance to use parents’ rooms, so we wanted to provide a range of options for accompanying small children to the toilet, whether in a designated parents’ room or within the traditional public toilet blocks.
Further expanding on the inclusiveness of the public toilet area, all-gender toilets were also designed. Working closely with Casuarina Square’s LGBTIQ+ community, great consideration was given to the signage and language used to ensure maximum inclusivity. Ultimately, the signage chosen for these toilets featured a traditional stick figure male, a stick figure female, as well as a third stick figure in half pants, half dress. These toilets were named ‘all-gender toilets’ used to ensure it didn’t give the appearance of being a ‘trans only’ toilet, but rather a welcoming space for everyone. It’s a move that’s been incredibly well received by the local community, which is thrilled with Casuarina Square’s decision to make such inclusive design choices.
The importance of inclusivity in design
At Hames Sharley, inclusivity is at the cornerstone of our values and at the heart of every one of our designs. As we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021, we do this in celebration of all women and their diversities, embracing all genders and sexual identities.
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is Choose to Challenge, which aims to call out gender bias and inequality to help create a more inclusive world. And by providing toilet facilities and parents’ rooms for all; for male and female, cis and transgender, Casuarina Square has done just that.
Working on projects such as this really highlights the need for more inclusivity, and how simply by acknowledging peoples’ different needs, we can design in a way that caters to all members of the community. Casuarina Square has taken a huge step forward in not only listening to its community and making it feel heard, but also by including the community in the decision-making process. Hopefully, this will be the first of many such projects that challenge the status quo and help create a more inclusive world through thoughtful, considered design.