Times and culture change drive innovation in locker room design

The communal athletic shower certainly was fodder for Hollywood’s treatment of high school and college comedy. In their day, the open concept of communal showers made sense both from a design and economic standpoint – multiple showering “stations” within a given space increased efficiency, capacity and throughput. Pipe drops into multi-head showering stanchions reduced mechanical first costs in new construction.

However, times and culture change – new norms about bathing privacy and the entire transgender trend have raised new concerns, challenges, and considerations as it relates to bathroom and shower design.

Students want privacy


One of the clearest drivers on the issue of bathing privacy in multi-occupant facilities has been the co-ed integration of housing at colleges and universities. In an article by Disadvantaged by Design, author Kathryn H. Anthony, Ph.D., writes:

Communal bathrooms present many negative issues for their users, along with creating efficiency of space. These facilities require users to enter with a “shower caddy” full of their toiletries needed for bathing. It did present some obstacles that others strongly disliked. One of which is the fact that after your shower, unless you get fully dressed while still in the bathroom, which is made difficult by the wet floor and cramped stall, you must walk through a (usually) co-ed hallway in your towel to return to your dorm room. While this is fine for some people, others experience stress in this situation.

Dr. Anthony knows what of she speaks. She is a Distinguished Professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Anthony went on to say that several security breaches while living in the dorms meant greater risks on top of the discomfort some residents feel walking through coed hallways wrapped in a towel.

How to design locker room and dorm showers in the new age


In a recent article by Joe Dejka in the Omaha World Herald, Vanessa Schutte, an architect and K-12 school designer with DLR Group said, “Since I’ve been designing schools, I’ve never been involved with what we would call a gang shower — where they have one pole with four or five or six shower heads off of it, or multiple poles — they’ve all been individual spaces with shower curtains."  

She said it’s been nearly 25 years since DLR Group worked on a school project with communal-style showers.

In the article, Schuette goes on to say that the evolution to private showers did not come from government regulation or encouragement, but instead from privacy concerns identified by school officials and architects. In fact, she said there’s a new trend in shower design that would give students even greater privacy. Some districts are considering building shower stalls that would allow students to undress in a dry area behind a curtain.

“Private stalls are the standard now”, she said. “They cost about the same and require about the same space.”

From concept to reality: Solid surface shower compartments

Vanessa's concept is already a reality: The images below are from the dorm renovations at the University of Arkansas - Yocum Hall and Westminster College - Shaw Hall. Both renovations were part of a multi-year, campus-wide, multi-dorm updating project that utilized Endurant BioPrism® Solid Surface material to help prevent mold and mildew, and in return, resulting in reduced cleaning and maintenance. 

Both educational facilities recognized the need for adequate bathing privacy for their students. The Yocum Hall showers even offer adequate dry-floor changing space and solid surface partitions for privacy that allow bathers to disrobe and get dressed within that space. 


Tile showers provide breeding ground for mold and mildew

We can’t leave this topic without addressing the cleanliness of bathroom in general, and the risks associated with outdated design and materials.

Communal shower areas tend to be outfitted with tile and grout. As we’ve expressed in previous blog articles, grout is a breeding ground for mold, mildew and bacteria. like MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) due to its porous nature.

The roster of athletes who’ve been sidelined by MRSA is a lot longer than most people would care to imagine. For more than a decade, sports media has been dotted with stories of MRSA diagnoses among sports teams:

  • In 2003, five Rams players were affected by MRSA
  • Since 2003, the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns reported outbreaks
  • A tight end for the NY Giants had numerous surgeries related to a MRSA infection, and faced a possible amputation
  • A 2013 study commissioned by NFL physicians found that 33 players contacts staph infection from 2006 to 2008
  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers dealt with an outbreak in the fall of 2013
  • In March 2014, an infielder for the Philadelphia Phillies was diagnosed

Outfitting private individual shower stalls can put you in a great position to install antimicrobial BioPrism® Solid Surface that is much easier to clean and maintain, and the biggest benefit… no grout! Since solid surface is non-nutritive, it does not promote the growth of mold and mildew, and resists bacterial growth. Solid surface shower walls can be provided in decorative styles like subway tile, diamond, etc. So your design doesn’t have to be limited.

You can find additional information on the topic of dorm and locker room shower design in our white paper, Locker Room Showers: Getting out of the 1960s.

Download White Paper