Embracing Gender Neutrality in Athletic Spaces

Ideas & Perspectives from

ARC specializes in designing for clients in higher education, independent schools, science & innovation, and athletics & wellness.  As a firm we’ve developed a depth of shared expertise around the common, as well as unique, design requirements for each of these space types. But we recognize there is always room for growth.

In fact, I believe ARC’s depth of expertise can be attributed to an openness to continue to grow and learn from the constantly changing needs that users of these spaces express, and an openness to learn from others in the office with different backgrounds, lived experiences, and areas of expertise.

In the last few months, ARC has jumped onto several new athletics and wellness projects, and we’ve challenged ourselves to think harder about what defines a wellness space. We have learned and really embraced the idea that wellness is about much more than just the physical body, but also mental and spiritual; we begin to think about how a space can consider the needs of the mind, body, and soul.

If wellness means caring for the wellbeing of a whole a person, then we must consider how to make people feel safe in a space – and not just some people, everyone. In the context of athletics, student-athletes need spaces to change their clothes, shower, use the bathroom and meet with their teams. Historically and predominantly these spaces have been divided between men and women, but this practice does not necessarily meet the needs for everyone. In the recent years, the number of people who identify as transgender and gender diverse (TGD) has increased; this is likely due to the expanding definition of TGD. We must consider how to shift our design thinking to create spaces that ensure everyone feels comfortable and safe – spaces that consider the holistic wellbeing of each person in the space.

Without gender neutral spaces, some individual may experience hostile environments that are both physically and mentally difficult and unsafe for an individual.

The need for gender neutral bathrooms has begun to inform the ways in which we design. At ARC, we are working with our clients to explore ways to incorporate GN spaces into athletic spaces like bathroom, locker rooms, and team rooms. Why are these spaces crucial? By having more GN spaces, individuals will have the safety to express their TGD identities openly if they choose to, knowing that there are spaces they can feel comfortable in. And that is what wellness is all about.

As architects, we at ARC design spaces for people - not men and women - but for everyone, regardless of their gender identity.

Emmett Maguire, Designer
Ideas & Perspectives from Embracing Gender Neutrality in Athletic Spaces