The washroom is often taken for granted and relegated as a menial design task when it arguably represents one of the most difficult spaces to design. With few exceptions, the washroom has emerged as a focal point in the journey back to normalcy. Leaders in industries such as business, medicine, education, and travel are anxious to put their organizations back to work and bring customers back into their venues with confidence. If architects and facility owners get the washroom wrong, workforce and customer distrust will spread like the COVID-19 virus itself, sowing seeds of doubt about returning safely to these enterprises.

Greg Poland, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., doesn’t mince words when describing the challenges ahead. Consider washroom water faucet and door handles, for example. “We swabbed them and put petri dishes in the incubator,” he says. “The handles [were] grossly infected with bacteria and viruses.”

Today’s best practices to prevent the spread of infection may have come from ad hoc design patches developed to solve immediate problems in hospitals, emergency rooms, and other frontline washrooms since the pandemic began. So, what’s the best way to elevate these design patches into more long-term, thoughtful, and design-driven solutions? Cyrus Boatwalla, Avi Bar, and Paul Kechejian have given this question a lot of thought. These professionals hold high-level positions at the New York headquarters of the ASI Group, a manufacturer and global supplier of washroom accessories, sanitizer dispensers, toilet partitions, lockers, and visual display products.

The trio’s work has allowed them to engage with architects and management teams at top hospitals around the globe. Their understanding of a hospital’s needs come from collaborations with the medical industry throughout the pandemic, which has given them unique insight. They share a few thoughts about lessons learned:

  • Collaborate. “Our understanding of, and the demands placed on us by COVID-19 are constantly shifting,” Boatwalla says, “and we advise designers to seek out suppliers that have a nimble mindset and manufacturing agility to respond quickly to nearly any design requirement.” The ASI Group, for example, supplied and installed metal partitions for an emergency COVID-19 field hospital in Old Westbury, a village on the north shore of Long Island, N.Y., in 72 hours.
  • Wide Design Freedom. “Identify a supplier that presents you with a large design palette,” Kechejian SAYS. “Don’t limit yourself to a narrow range of material choices just because that’s all the supplier offers. For example, look for a source that represents metal, plastic, and phenolic partitions across a wide array of sizes and colors.”
  • Think Open Source. Some soap and sanitizer companies offer proprietary products that may sound good upfront, but lock the owner into a costly long-term contract. “Don’t specify soap or sanitizer products that tie up your owner financially and leave them at the mercy of an individual company’s supply chain,” Bar advises. “Non-proprietary dispensers accept any qualified product, which can increase availability and reduce costs.”
  • 1% Risking 100%? Don’t underestimate the washroom. It may represent less than 1% of the building cost, but it puts 100% of the occupants at ease—or at odds—with their employer’s return-to-work decision.

Learn more about successful washroom design at