BD Blog Final

Posted by Henry Goss on 6 March 2014

  • Ladies and Gentlemen

    Ladies and Gentlemen

Ladies and Gentlemen

St Pancras International Railway Station is undoubtedly an architectural triumph.  A monument to the golden age of steam and a continuing jewel in the crown of the European wide rail network.  The recent £800 million renovation and extension has breathed new life into William Henry Barlow’s audacious 74.83m spanning arches and Gilbert Scott’s 60 million Nottingham bricks as well as providing a state of the art new terminal building bringing London into the 21st Century of high speed rail travel.

Despite this impressive achievement, and it is impressive, it still exhibits that most flagrant of all sex discriminatory acts so universally observed as to pass without so much as a raised eyebrow.  Wholly inadequate female cloacal arrangements.

Not to brag about the prestigious projects with which I have been involved during my illustrious career but I do have some experience in the design of public conveniences.  Library Road WC’s in Totton marked a significant milestone for me being my part three case study project. A noble endeavor which, through a term contract with New Forest District Council, became a right of passage for all fledgling architects at John Pardey’s office.

With these modest pavilions located in town centres the volume of traffic is typically low but relatively constant thus allowing similar proportions for male and female to work satisfactorily.  Apply the same spatial principle to public buildings with high intermittent volume such as theatres, airports or indeed railway stations and the diagram fails.

Perhaps there should be a basic equation to assess the special design parameters based on varying gender specific requirements.  No doubt there is much anthropomorphic data on this but it is clearly failing to deliver.  An example of such an equation may be defined thus:

S=n12 x t1 x t2 x b x p x ac

Where:

S=size of public lavatory required comparatively male to female ratio:

n12=Proportion of number 1 to number 2

t1=average time take to conduct number 1

t2=average time take to conduct number 2

b=Time for general beautification, hair, makeup etc

p=number of people at peak times

ac=The area of cubical compared to a urinal or trough

Much like the Drake Equation for calculating the possible number of civilisations in our galaxy with which radio-communication might be possible, this perhaps raises more questions than it answers.  Furthermore, to accurately assess this, a detailed study into the practical implications of disrobing sufficiently to expose the requisite equipment required for evacuation should be conducted.  Lamentably, few subjects selected for such a test were keen to participate in this instance.  One notable exception however was Architect Hugh Richardson who, much like myself, has long held a keen interest into this aspect of architectural design and has provided some insightful commentary into this much misunderstood 21st Century ablution fetish highlighting the fact that in less than a century the privy at the bottom of the garden has been replaced by bathrooms outnumbering bedrooms in many private houses.

Would I advocate the end of segregation between the sexes as a possible solution? Apart form the obvious practical and physiological restrictions which can be overcome by various mind boggling technological devices, is this any more than a cultural prejudice which has indoctrinated women to believe that conducting ones business is not to shared in such close quarters with your fellow human whilst men are free to snuggle up against one another shoulder to shoulder with perfect strangers in closer proximity than would ordinarily be acceptable at a bar?  At a glance, this would appear to be contradicted by the propensity of women to accompany one another to the lavatory although what goes on behind the closed doors of the ladies toilet is beyond the remit of this piece. 

At any rate, queues of ladies extending around the station forecourt whilst men casually wander in and out securing their buckles and shaking their hands dry smacks of some major design error which must be addressed.  Perhaps I should bring this up with Dame Jenny Murray, it may already have been covered.  I have one closing comment to this most important of architectural discussions, for all women traveling to St Pancras International, a word of advice.  Before you reach the terminal, go on the train.

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