Japanese engineers, who have basically brought us robots who also happen to collect human refuse, typically take the crown for most innovative toilet design. But city planners in Berlin, Germany, are moving beyond the heated seats and bum sprays to bring social consciousness to public toilets, the BBC reports.
At a time when transgender individuals in the United States are fighting for equal access to restrooms, urban planners in Berlin want the city’s public-toilet system to make more gender-neutral options available.
The Berliners’ ideas are outlined in “The Toilet Concept,” a newly released, 99-page city-planning document:
“In the future urinals which can be used by all genders should be offered … Places that currently only have a male-only [public urinal] should also now have gender neutral [toilets],” the authors write.
A design for the gender-neutral urinal — which is often referred to, in binary terms, as the “female urinal” — has actually been available for decades, according to a paper from German applied science and plumbing professor Mete Demiriz. A handful of similar models already exist in parts of China, Japan, and Switzerland (pictured below). An individual typically uses it by getting into a “skiing position” with their back against the wall.
Champions of the female urinal believe it could reduce women’s bathroom lines, provide a more sanitary option, and save water. According to Demiriz’s paper:
“… Using a [traditional toilet] means longer waiting time than to be expected for using a urinal. Women who want to use conventional public restrooms may, therefore, need to “stand in line” for a longer time.
After all, women find it necessary there to [flush more often], e.g. to flush down the paper they use to cover the toilet seat in order to avoid infections by skin contact. This unnecessarily results in high water consumption.”
But reviews on the female urinals are mixed. In Salzberg, Austria, local officials installed female urinals in a government building in 2002, but later removed them. “Some women believed they had mistakenly wandered into a men’s toilet and others just had no idea how to use them — although an illustration was available,” the Austrian Press Agency wrote.
Berliners, meanwhile are undeterred, and want to be trendsetters.
“[Gender-neutral urinals] could be a subject for the continuation of the [toilet] concept and an opportunity for Berlin to show that it is innovative,” the authors of “The Toilet Concept” write.
Of course, it’s unclear if women in Berlin will embrace the new design, reportedly backed by the city’s left-wing coalition. “Why does the state government want me to pee standing up?” one conservative-affiliated woman asked on Twitter. “There are more important topics for us women … safety on public transport for example.”