“We imagine solid unlockable doors to the bathing room as a whole; perhaps swinging doors to establish the fluidity of the area; and then opaque glass doors or curtains on the shower stall; a simple door for the toilet stalls—this is the most private spot; and an open doorway to the alcove which contains the bath.”
Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language

In North Carolina for a conference, I was interested to see an account on the news of the controversial state law requiring that in government buildings people use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate. It gave me an occasion to reflect on bathrooms.

The law, of course, only applies to multiple-occupancy bathrooms, and as such it is a matter of the common sense insight that people will need privacy, in this space, from members of the other sex. Differences between the sexes matter.

In our homes, on the other hand, bathrooms are not uni-sex, and the same toilet stall will be used in succession by both men and women. This fact has some interesting consequences, and here too we do well to remember the natural differences between male and female.

I know a family in which there are several daughters and no sons. Painted in cheery letters on the underside of their toilet seat—only to be seen when it is lifted—are the words: “It’s good to have a man in the house.”

I remember clearly when I was young my father said to me: make sure when you’re leaving the bathroom you think of the next person who will come in. This was an admonition especially to check that the seat is clean. But it wasn’t until years later that I received a fuller picture.

Early in our marriage my wife requested that I be sure to put down the toilet seat when I was done. Indeed, otherwise I would have left the seat in whatever position it happened to be, which when up, would require that a lady have to put it down, or not noticing, risk falling in.

I’m happy to say that in this, in any case, I have succeeded in forming a good habit in accord with my wife’s wishes. Not so long ago she told me how grateful she is that she doesn’t find the seat up in the bathroom, except sometimes when we have guests.

The bathroom affords us regular occasions to sit and remember , in privacy, any number of things, and it is fitting in our busy world to take advantage of such times for reflection. Further, how we use and take care of the bathroom is one way of remembering, and being grateful for, the natural differences between man and woman; perhaps especially when some others are forgetting.

Restoring Home Life Room Mini-Series

This is the eighth in a series taking a thoughtful tour through a house, room by room, based on the writings of Christopher Alexander.

I. Restoring Home Life: Room by Room

II. A Room for the Family

III. The Kitchen: The Last Stand of the Home

IV: A Space for Children in the Home

V: The Marriage Bed: Can It Really Work?

VI: A Place to Watch the World Go By

VII: The Living Room: A Place for Formality

VIII: The Bathroom: Remembering Differences

IX:  Does Your Home Have a Physical Center?


Christopher Alexander (1936–) was born in Austria and is currently an emeritus professor of architecture at the University of California, where he taught for almost forty years. He has been widely influential through his theories of architecture, and is especially known for his 1977 book A Pattern Language.

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