by David Leigh
Recent demographic and social trends have increased demand for multigenerational design in commercial buildings, and the restroom offers many opportunities to cater to a full spectrum of generational challenges. Rising demand for accessible design, family-friendly amenities, hygiene, and privacy all place the onus on architects and specifiers to provide solutions that better serve an increasingly diverse range of restroom patrons.
Multigenerational solutions are not just good manners—they are also good business. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, multigenerational households grew by 40 percent between 1990 and 2000. In addition, an AARP survey revealed the number of parents over age 65 moving in with their adult children increased by 62 percent between 2000 and 2007. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also estimated by 2040, 20 percent more people will be over age 65 and 23 percent more will be under 18 than in today’s population. Extrapolated across the entire United States, these divergent age groups may eventually comprise approximately half of the country’s residents. Meanwhile, baby boomers are increasingly reaching retirement age. With an aging population requiring access to appropriate lavatory facilities, accommodating design is a pressing issue for independent living and quality of life.
These demographic shifts have resulted in a U.S. workforce that can be broken down into four distinct generations, which—in many cases—must share the same facilities:
- the ‘silent generation,’ born prior to 1945;
- baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964;
- generation X, born between 1965 and 1979; and
- generation Y, or millennials, born after 1981.
In order for these age groups to work and live together in harmony, the commercial, institutional, and industrial facilities serving them must become more accommodating. This is especially true for public restrooms, which may extend generational differences.
Multigenerational design affects virtually every vertical market sector. For architects, developers, and project teams, multigenerational design has implications on both micro and macro levels. On the macro level, according to the American Planning Association (APA), multigenerational planning “takes into consideration all age groups” in “all stages of planning,” from needs assessment to design and implementation, in addition to considering government policies, zoning, and building codes that “ensure generational equality and access.” (This quotation is from “Multigenerational Planning: Using smart growth and universal design to link the needs of children and the aging population,” available online here.) On the micro level, designers can specify accommodations, facilities, fixtures, and furnishings that serve multiple generations. To achieve true multigenerational design, facilities must be better-equipped, more comfortable, healthier, and should offer improved ergonomics and adaptive environments to result in more satisfied patrons.
For business owners, multigenerational design has multiple benefits. These include:
- more collaboration across generations;
- political support and community building;
- smart growth to keep citizens active; and
- connected, safe, and effective inclusion of all members of