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Wed 10 Feb 2010 04:00 AM

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Out of sight

Alan Millin (MSc. CEng FIHEEM) gets up close and personal with an issue that, for most, is up close and personal.

Out of sight

I’m sure many readers have come across public conveniences in other countries where women and men are asked to share the same small piece of real estate. In those countries where such arrangements are common, the local population is usually ok with everything, while visitors may be a bit surprised and possibly even slightly embarrassed.

These conveniences have a variety of monikers too: bathroom, restroom, comfort room, loo, to mention a few. There are of course many other terms and, in fact, the French also have a name for the facility that leaves little to the imagination.

But the various names used by people may present insights into the use of the facilities for Facilities Managers. Do people use the facilities as bathrooms? Certainly we may see them used for ablution purposes where no dedicated ablution facility exists. People may indeed go in for a rest or to take comfort. For those of you familiar with some of the slang terms I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.…

So for FM’s, toilets can present some unique challenges. First, they have to be cleaned. It helps a lot if they smell pleasant too. But in the Middle East it is difficult to imagine women having to walk through the men’s section of a public toilet to get to the ladies section. The ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gents’ are separate facilities and probably everyone is relieved—please forgive the pun—that this is the case.

Why then, given the cultural sensitivities existing throughout the region, do some designers repeatedly ignore the very basic ‘line of sight’ issue? We find the same issue even in relatively new multi-tenanted office facilities too.

In a prestigious Dubai office building, constructed in 2007, ladies visiting their toilet have, if they are unfortunate enough to pass the Gents at the wrong moment, a direct line of sight into the Gents. Not a pretty sight for them really is it?

To make matters worse, the office that I visited was occupied by a major consultancy with an FM division. The company had gone to great lengths to arrange the work area but could do little to correct the fundamental design flaw.

In a major conference venue, visited regularly by thousands of men and women, I was surprised to find the same line-of-sight issue for the ladies to deal with. Perhaps the ladies looked discreetly away from the sights they were faced with, perhaps they were embarrassed, I don’t know. I do know though that they had no choice because there wasn’t even a door on the Gents bathroom!

My latest line-of-sight find was at a recently opened, very up-market facility which, to spare blushes, I will not describe in any detail. Suffice to say that patrons paying well above usual market rates for their relaxation may be more than a bit surprised on visiting the toilets. Both the Ladies and Gents are in a low pedestrian traffic area. The entrance to the Ladies is the last door. The facilities are designed so that when the ladies exit their own facilities they have, again depending on the right timing of events, a clear and direct view into the Gents, and not just the entrance, if you get my point.

The unfortunate bit is that this last facility is almost brand new, having opened in 2009.

What were the designers thinking when they drew up their plans? Time and again we come across issues like these that really should be caught very early on in the design process. It’s not difficult to identify these issues; they just need an FM on board who is trained to see them when others don’t.

Unfortunately we are still not at the point where FM’s are invited to the design table at the outset of projects. As the people who have to deal with the consequences of design flaws, FM’s are perfectly placed to identify them.

Yes, we can wait for others to appreciate that things didn’t turn out quite as they had hoped, and maybe they will do a better job next time.

Or we can get out there, highlight issues, rattle cages and make ourselves heard so that owners, designers, project teams etc. see us as a vital ingredient, adding significant value to the project and the team’s reputation.

How can we do this? Even something as simple as passing a copy of this magazine to people outside the FM industry is a step in the right direction. So go ahead, finish the magazine and promote FM.

After all, if you don’t, who else will?

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