Signs that your new building was originally designed for another purpose: Rest rooms


There's always a settling-in period when you move offices, learning where things are, like the rest room, the kitchen, the printer room, the cafeteria, the locker room, your boss...

My new office is conveniently close to the rest room. Actually, this building is laid out kind of weird. There are two sets of rest rooms within a short distance of each other, on opposite sides of a stairwell. You can wave hello from one to the other and have a conversation. My office is nearly halfway between them. But I can use only one of them.

On the south side, there are two rest rooms, a men's room and a women's room. On the north side, there is a women's rest room and a storage closet.

Clearly the people who originally commissioned this building were not a tech company with a sterotypical gender balance.

Bonus rest room imbalance: There is a men's room on the upper floor near some conference rooms. It has no urinals, only stalls. This was clearly a former women's room that merely has a new sign on the door. Whenever I use it, I have this brief moment of panic when it appears that I went into the wrong rest room by mistake.

Double bonus rest room quirk: There is a rest room just off a large gathering area. It is a unisex rest room which serves only one person at a time, and it is huge—maybe two thirds the size of an office. Last year, a friend of mine flew up to Redmond to interview with Microsoft. (It was for a group I have no connection to, so there's no conflict of interest, thanks for asking.) Her inbound flight was delayed, so she arrived at Microsoft campus with only a half hour to spare before her first interview. I took her to the luxury rest room, which gave her plenty of space to change from her travel clothes to her interview clothes, freshen up, and make it to her first interview.

Comments (42)
  1. Gabe says:

    At my engineering college, it’s clear that some of the older buildings were built before they went coed. Those with a smaller floor plan only have a single restroom on each floor, so once women became common they had to make half of them women’s rooms. Now they have men’s rooms on the even floors and women’s rooms on the odd floors.

  2. mrfixitfox says:

    The large rest room is usually for wheelchair users. Watch out for the red dangling cord, it’s not a light switch but a panic button.

  3. tsrblke says:

    A few of the Dorms at the college I work at were converted to offices.  Which is always hiliarious when your being shown around a new department and they say "Here are the restrooms, we haven’t removed the showers from the old build…"

  4. Aaargh! says:

    In the building I work, which rents space to a few companies, there are 2 bathrooms on each floor. One has 2 stalls, the other 1. The bathrooms are dynamically allocated depending in the type of company. Our floor has 2 mens, 1 women (IT company) the floor below 2 women 1 mens (health & safety company). etcetera.

    "Here are the restrooms, we haven’t removed the showers from the old build…"

    That’s so cool. In my experience a shower is one of the best debugging tools there is. You’re comfortable with little distraction combined with the white-noise input from the falling water. Ideal place to let the mind wander.

    so once women became common they had to make half of them women’s rooms

    I wonder why though, the whole separation seems a bit arbitrary to me. It’s not like the stalls don’t have doors with locks on them.

  5. JZ says:

    I used to work at a large company which built a new headquarters during my tenure.  There was exactly the same amount of space devoted to women’s restrooms as to men’s, even in sections of the building where there were almost no women working.  The men’s rooms frequently had people waiting inside.

    I once heard someone take responsibility for the layout of the floors.  She thought it was fine.

  6. David says:

    Typo: doubled “the” (“maybe two thirds the the size of an office”).

    Nitpicker’s corner: I’m not claiming I don’t make mistakes, nor that a typo makes you a horrible person. I just want to help fix a mistake. Is that so bad?

    [Fixed, thanks. And good job on the nitpicker’s corner. -Raymond]
  7. AndiDi says:

    That’s so cool. In my experience a shower is one of the best debugging tools there is. You’re comfortable with little distraction combined with the white-noise input from the falling water. Ideal place to let the mind wander.

    And I though I was only one who thought that..

  8. someone else says:

    Showers rather create pink noise, not white. :)

  9. GvG says:

    As a non-native English speaker, I’m always amused by the term "rest room".

  10. abadidea says:

    On the computer science floor at my university, there is exactly one toilet (not one restroom) to cover two public computer labs, four classrooms, a seminar room, a lounge, and four offices.

    Upstairs, on the bio/chemistry floor, there is one unisex toilet and one men’s toilet. I don’t get it.

  11. C. Watford says:

    A trailer I worked in on site had a Lactation Room.

  12. Cooney says:

    At my engineering college, it’s clear that some of the older buildings were built before they went coed.

    Mine too, although the newer buildings (like the CII, with its brutalist architecture) have paired bathrooms.

    On the south side, there are two rest rooms, a men’s room and a women’s room. On the north side, there is a women’s rest room and a storage closet.

    Clearly the people who originally commissioned this building were not a tech company with a sterotypical gender balance.

    Yeah, this being MS, I would expect the ratios to be reversed.

    There is a men’s room on the upper floor near some conference rooms. It has no urinals, only stalls. This was clearly a former women’s room that merely has a new sign on the door. Whenever I use it, I have this brief moment of panic when it appears that I went into the wrong rest room by mistake.

    Do they at least color code the walls? I went into the wrong room by mistake once and the first clue was actually the pink walls.

  13. steveshe says:

    The late night night, high volume bars in NYC just have a unisex restroom. I big roomn with urinals and toilets with men an women co-mingled. It was a bit disconcerting at first, but after a trip or two (drinking beer) you don’t really care anymore.

    While I belive this is somewhat common in other parts of the world, it is not at all common in most cities in the U.S.

  14. johndill says:

    You can also tell the age of some the buildings by the presence of ashtrays in the stalls :)

  15. johndill says:

    >Showers rather create pink noise, not white. :)

    Besides, it’s not the noise improving the thought process, it’s the negative ions!

    http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/negative-ions-create-positive-vibes?lastselectedguid={5FE84E90-BC77-4056-A91C-9531713CA348}

  16. Gabe says:

    Somebody once told me that the reason for seperate rooms for men and women is that men are slobs, and women don’t want to have to put up with the messy men’s rooms.

  17. Gabe says:

    Somebody once told me that the reason for seperate rooms for men and women is that men are slobs, and women don’t want to have to put up with the messy men’s rooms.

  18. Robert says:

    Other buildings on the MS campus are mirror images of each other (e.g. 16 and 17). If you walk down a seemingly familiar hallway in the other building and turn into the restroom like you’re used to – if you haven’t looked at the sign, you’re in the wrong one. Recently a bunch of folks moved from one to the other, and hilarity predictably ensued.

  19. configurator says:

    I’m used to unisex restrooms from several workplaces in almost my entire work history. Only one place had divided restrooms, and they were usually identical (no urinals).

    I was in a restaurant in some market in Paris a few weeks ago, and they had a restroom built like this: You’d walk into a small hall with a basin and a urinal, then there was a door to the left and a door to the right – one men’s, the other women’s. The stalls had this sort of coin-thing where going in costs 2 Euro. Naturally, all men used the urinal which was unfortunately placed right next to the door so that any unsuspecting man or woman would normally see the private parts first and only then the face of whoever’s using the urinal. Quite a lot of laughs there though.

  20. steveg says:

    I’m working in an office with 60 people and they’re mainly women (10 men). The toilets have 4 cubicles each (in Australia we say "toilet" or "bathroom" to mean what US folks call the "rest room". Seriously, how often do you actually have a nap in there? :-). Actually the word "toilet" is kind of scary, guess it was invented when there wasn’t much fiber in people’s diets (or pre NT 4.0?)… "Thanks for dinner, I’m off to toil it".

    Anyhoo, the female toilets are in a pretty dire state and the male toilets are rather pleasant. There’s some talk about making the men’s unisex.

  21. someone else says:

    And then there are buildings like the Pentagon, which have double the number of rest rooms required.

    There’s a colorful explanation for this.

  22. hexatron says:

    I visited an architect’s office in Columbus Tower in San Francisco in the early 1960s. It was then occupied by several small businesses.

    The curious thing was that every office had a working sink–remnant of the small businesses that had occupied it earlier.

    I don’t know if the sinks survived the renovation by Francis F Coppola.

  23. chrismcb says:

    @steveg

    "(in Australia we say "toilet" or "bathroom" to mean what US folks call the "rest room". Seriously, how often do you actually have a nap in there? :-)."

    And yet, how often do you take a bath in the bathroom at work?

    In the states you find a bathroom at home, but a restroom at work.

  24. dsn says:

    And in Canada you’ll find a washroom.  Hopefully Americans also wash afterwards?

  25. someone else says:

    I’ve noticed the same at a certain German university. Not only does one building have an impressive surplus of rest rooms, the other one has a distinct *lack* of then.

    Also, some of the rooms are not suited for lectures at all.

  26. Aaargh! says:

    Somebody once told me that the reason for seperate rooms for men and women is that men are slobs, and women don’t want to have to put up with the messy men’s rooms.

    Go check out the average women’s bathroom, usually it’s the other way around.

  27. Anonymous says:

    As an American who has lived in various parts of the country, I can say that I take "bathroom", "rest room", "wash room", etc. each to mean the same thing.  There is no distinction between these terms, except that "rest room" is what people say when they’re being fake-polite and euphemistic.

  28. Shaun says:

    There is a men’s room on the upper floor

    near some conference rooms.

    It has no urinals, only stalls.

    Curiously, there seems to be something of a trend, at least in some parts of the UK, of fitting specially made female urinals in pub (bar) toilets, apparently.

    I won’t go into details of how I discovered this, but suffice to say I was completely convinced I was in the men’s room, and was trying to comprehend the unusual design of these urinals whilst releiving myself, when I got screamed at all of a sudden by a group of women.

    I was embarrased, and confused – and drunk.

  29. Anonymous says:

    The first building in the complex BMC occupied in Austin, TX was built as a nursing home, then remodeled into offices.  Since each original patient room pair shared a bath, the new floor plan was very cockenied to account for all the small rooms, and more than enough of them were left as restrooms…

  30. Paul Mitchell says:

    Sometimes you’re not allowed to make a building suit its purpose.  A commercial flying school here wanted to build a new block.  They initially had their planning permission denied due to the lack of disabled restroom facilities.

    The building must be accessible to whellchair users they were told.  But we train pilots to fly Boeing 747s.  The flight deck of those planes is not wheelchair accessible the claimed.

    To no avail.  So they’ve had to make the disabled concessions.  The large expensively equipped disabled restroom will be used as a storage cupboard.

  31. James Schend says:

    Paul Mitchell (really?):

    Makes sense, for the topic at-hand. Which is: buildings that don’t serve the purpose they were originally built for. Your building is designed to train 747 pilots; maybe in 20 years it’ll be serving some completely different purpose for which handicapped restrooms would be necessary.

  32. kip says:

    Sometimes an overabundance of bathrooms can indicate that the building was built prior to desegregation, with "white" and "coloured" bathrooms.  I think I read that the Pentagon has tons of bathrooms for this reason.

  33. Anonymous Coward says:

    Couldn’t you petition your boss or whoever is in charge of these things to flip another sign about?

    As for the split/unisex thing, I didn’t understand it until I had to use the ladies’ a few times (forgive me!) – I really don’t comprehend how it’s possible that their restrooms can be like that. So you want to have separate restrooms for men, it keeps the women out most of the time.

    The cleanest toilet I’ve ever used (apart from my own of course – har har) was a public toilet in the south of France. I was actually quite surprised by the cleanliness of public toilets there generally, especially in smaller cities, once I got past the ‘my feet go where!?’ thing. But back to this one. It was a technological marvel. After someone had used it, judging by the ominous sounds and the resulting appearance it fully rinsed and dried the entire interior. Everything shone, not a speck anywhere.

    Worst toilet disaster: I once broke one of those flush buttons that control an elevated flush water container. The button exploded, emptying the entire container in my face in seconds and then slowly proceeded to flood the hallway.

  34. DWalker59 says:

    Our building’s "Janitor’s Closet" has a sign saying "Janitor’s Closet" at a low height — and in Braille — apparently for those janitors who are blind and use wheelchairs.

  35. DWalker59 says:

    @kip:  Apparently you didn’t read the comment by "someone else".

  36. JanC says:

    Reminds me of the toilets in the midwifery campus of the college I worked last year: I stepped into the male toilet stall (there were no urinals) and there was a dispenser for paper bags to put used tampons & such into before disposing them into the garbage can.  Of course the fact that there were only 2 toilets on that floor and only about 5-10% of the student were male, meant that that toilet probably got used quite often by female students too…  ;)

  37. katastrofa says:

    “Last year, a friend of mine flew up to Redmond to interview with Microsoft. (It was for a group I have no connection to, so there’s no conflict of interest, thanks for asking.)”

    What’s wrong with helping your friend get a job?

    [There’s nothing wrong with helping your friend get a job, as long as you do it ethically. -Raymond]
  38. Neil says:

    In the company I work for, there are now about 5 people in this office, taking up the entire floor. We used to share with another company who took up 2 other floors. We shared restrooms – our floor had the Ladies, the Mens is on the floor below ours.

    Last year they moved out, and a few months ago the last female in our company left too. And yet I still cannot bring myself to use the Ladies one, and always have to walk downstairs to the Mens.

  39. Lucas says:

    The computer/electrical engineering dept. at my university had a *huge* men’s room in the first floor, another *huge* men’s room in the second, and a normal-sized lady’s room in the third. Female students were outraged… all two of them.

    Slowly gender ratio started balancing out, and management noticed the men’s rooms were always too big, anyway. Eventually the middle bathroom was split in two, which was pretty easy because they were already symmetrical and split by a wall but had a single door.

  40. Fujin Mana says:

    Thats nothing, I am in a certain ME, semi-government Telco; and we dont have women stalls at all! There are no women working in any building within 5 KM and we are on a huge campus!

    Great, working on a campus with 15,000 males; not that great for morale :)

  41. Ian Johns says:

    Attending the University of Florida in the early 90s, I was initially confused as to why most the men’s rooms’ urinals in the computer science building were consistently lower than any other men’s rooms on campus.  Usually there would be one adult-level urinal, but two or three elementary-scool level urinals.

    The only logical, although some might say rascist, conclusion was that the average height of most male computer science faculty & grad students were slightly shorter than the average adult male.

  42. Not a pilot says:

    Regarding the disabled restrooms at the flying school, the "we train pilots" excuse doesn’t cut it.  Sure, you may be able to guarantee that all the pilots will be able-bodied (Douglas Bader is turning in his grave), but what about the trainers?  Administrative staff?  Contractors?  Visitors?

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