2016 2017

August 20, 2019


This project will employ virtual reality technologies to develop design prototypes for safe and inclusive public restrooms that addresses the needs of diverse bodies of different genders, ages, and disabilities.  We will employ virtual reality technologies as a design and representational tool to generate a model to allow users to experience the visual and acoustic qualities of a multi-unit all-gender bathroom.


  • Joel Sanders, professor adjunct, Yale School of Architecture
  • David Langdon, Yale School of Architecture ’18
  • Francesca Carney, Yale School of Architecture ’18
  • Edward Wang, Yale College ’16
  • Catherine Shih, Yale College ’15

Featured technologies:

  • Google Cardboard
  • HTC Vive
  • Rhinoceros 5.0
  • VRay 2.0
  • Viar 360


From public transportation to furniture, the designs of everyday architectural spaces and items have historically used ergonomic standards derived from “averages” that are based most frequently on the measurements, needs, and expectations of able-bodied white males.

Joel Sanders, principal of the firm Joel Sanders Architect and a faculty member at Yale’s School of Architecture, has been interested for a number of years in the social justice implications of architectural design. “Public restroom design in particular,” he says, “can trigger personal and often uncomfortable feelings about the nature of embodied experience that tap into deep seated issues about privacy, gender, sexuality, hygiene, and disability.”

Sanders points out that architects tend to think of their discipline as a visual art. “Too often,” he says, “we neglect to think about the biological bodies — bodies that see, hear, smell and touch — who will be inhabiting the spaces we design.”

Design of sinks that would be usable for a wide variety of heights.

Those sensory impacts and user needs, Sanders notes, cannot be explored easily or effectively using the conventional design tools of blueprints, floor plans, and scaled models. So, to translate their ideas, and incorporate the needs of a broad range of differently embodied people of all ages, genders, religions and physical capacities, the Stalled! Blended Reality team developed an approach called Diversity Design.

Their process involved identifying a representative sample of user groups, researching the design consequences of their functional and psychological needs, and then finding common creative design solutions that could be shared among them.

A cross section of the restroom concept.

Working with this information, the Stalled! Blended Reality team applied the research to the design of a prototypical public restroom for an airport terminal. They employed virtual reality (VR) as a design and representational tool to generate a model that would allow users to experience the visual and acoustic qualities of a multi-unit, all-gender bathroom.  

A top down diagram of the restroom concept.

The larger conceptual framework is based on European style floor-to-ceiling stalls that afford complete privacy. The underlying idea, Sanders says, is the creation of  spaces that are both inclusive and respectful of individuals’ privacy needs and requirements.

A second diagram of the restroom.

While the project began with the intent of creating the airport prototype, the team is also now working with an actual client — Gallaudet University (the world’s only higher education institution in which all programs and services are designed to accommodate those who are deaf and hard of hearing). The airport project involves the creation of a prototype for a generic facility, to be built from the ground up, that would accommodate a high volume of diverse users. The Gallaudet project, on the other hand, explores how to retrofit two existing gendered restrooms into the multi-stalled, all-gender model. 

“In the process of generating design solutions geared to rest rooms,” Sanders says, “we will likely discover other ideas that can be broadly applied to improve the quality of life for the wide range of human bodies interacting in public space.”