Inclusivity is at the forefront of designer’s minds when looking to create and remodel change facilities, with professional sports clubs, corporate workplaces and community organisations at the coalface of this societal change. There is a legacy of male-biased change rooms, but this is changing due to external factors, including government focus and growing media interest.
As the diversity conversation becomes ever more serious, the unconscious biases that have evolved over time need to be more consciously addressed. The increasing need for unisex changerooms in sporting, communal and commercial spaces is requiring designers to make the shift to inclusive spaces now, as opposed to down the track, and budgets are being adjusted accordingly to create these spaces. Hames Sharley is leading the charge from an architectural practice point of view, and endeavours to create spaces of this kind throughout its projects.
When the AFL introduced the AFLW in 2017, female participation skyrocketed; however, with no dedicated changing facilities at many clubs around Australia, female AFL players found themselves getting changed in their cars or having to go home for a shower.
A lack of changing facilities is also experienced by women in the corporate world. The City of Sydney Council found that women were far less likely to walk, run or cycle to work than their male counterparts, due to the general lack of female end-of-trip facilities, as well as the traditional end-of-trip location being in basements with reduced lighting and labyrinthine access. This had the potential to leave women feeling unsafe and uncomfortable while using these spaces.
Inclusivity in design ensures that facilities can be used by all members of the community, while also futureproofing them. Even if we are designing for a male-only sports team, Hames Sharley recommends the provision of unisex changing facilities to cover for potential women’s teams associated with those clubs in future. The practice also recommends additional facilities to cater for all genders of support staff, which increasingly includes coaching teams of alternative genders to the players. It is important to understand the DNA of sporting change rooms as a place of camaraderie and team bonding, which is quite different to a CBD end-of-trip facility, where even a hushed conversation between two colleagues can be relatively rare. Hames Sharley believes designing inclusively isn’t just about designing ‘for women’ – it’s creating non gendered spaces that can be used by any gender, with a greater range of facilities to encompass all needs.
Changing rooms have come to focus on safety and privacy, with the inclusion of private toilets and showers with lockable doors and sometimes a bench that allows players to get changed within a cubicle if desired. These are features curated for both genders. The coaching and planning spaces to build team tactics and camaraderie can still exist outside of the core change needs. Designing such spaces needs a little more thought around every possible current and future user, respecting their various needs.
In corporate offices, end-of-trip facilities have become a key differentiator for new buildings. Many commercial clients have indicated to Hames Sharley that their approach to wellness is critical in the attraction of employees. End-of-trip spaces are getting bigger and better, often becoming destinations in their own right and generally supplementary to any adjacent commercial gym offer. User experience planning dictates critical adjacencies with safe and secure routes from building entry points. This includes vehicle parking, pedestrian ground-floor lobbies, dedicated cycle access with secure bicycle storage and easy access to office spaces.
Hames Sharley considers privacy throughout a building, checking and double-checking all potential sightlines amongst the design process. Secure entry, careful zoning between wet and dry spaces, comfortable light levels, and enhanced air change are all now expected. As for the changerooms, the practice designs small locker and change areas, giving intimacy to larger spaces. For vanity benches, the practice oversizes sinks and the surrounding benchtops, and provides even and diffused lighting to a face plane. The practice looks to include driers, straighteners, and space for towels, soaps and moisturisers, and generally acknowledge the shift towards a hospitality focus. Many clients are looking to recreate high-end hotels that will attract tenants to buildings and their services, that will make the working day better and easier.
With increased space, simpler entry sequences, high quality materials and thoughtful design considerations, we are seeing more comfortable change facilities that are future-ready. Sports teams use these spaces to prepare, bond, share inspiration, get fired up for peak performance and reflect. In corporate offices, these spaces serve as a physical and mental break at the start, middle, or end of the working day. These are spaces that should overtly address stress and encourage wellbeing. Thought and investment in creating universally welcoming and safe changing spaces have the power to impact different communities, and providing equal access to the full gender diversity of these communities is critical so they can flourish.
This piece was written originally by Hames Sharley’s Louisa Glennon and Stephen Moorcroft, and edited by Jarrod Reedie at Architecture & Design. To find out more regarding Hames Sharley’s desire to create inclusive change facilities, visit hamessharley.com.au.